A preschool teacher has been censured after she accidentally locked a 4-year-old girl in a van for more than four hours.

Via Lam-Sam-Tai delivered three preschoolers to their homes in the childcare centre's van after 3pm on a Friday in September 2016, then parked the car at her house and went to a funeral, not realising that another child was still in the van.

Police found the girl in the van outside Lam-Sam-Tai's house at 8pm, still strapped in her car seat.

The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has censured Lam-Sam-Tai for "serious misconduct" but decided to let her continue teaching because she "fronted up" to the girl's family as soon as she realised what had happened at 9.15pm that night.


"She then visited the family to check on the wellbeing of the child and the mother, and to apologise for her 'horrible mistake'," the tribunal said.

Police issued her with a formal written warning and she was demoted from her position as a supervisor in the early childhood centre.

The name and location of the centre have been suppressed, but it is described as a centre whose "philosophy is to promote and teach Samoan language, culture and values".

"The respondent [Lam-Sam-Tai] was born and raised in Samoa and is Samoan in language and values," the tribunal said.

"She had participated as a parent back in the late 1980s with Pacific language nests."

She trained as an early childhood teacher in the 1990s but has remained only provisionally registered as a teacher. The tribunal said "no explanation for this was provided".

It said Lam-Sam-Tai "was responsible for transporting a number of children between their respective homes and the centre in a Ministry of Education van".

However on Friday September 2, 2016, she took the children home without filling in the required form with the children's names.

"The respondent believed she had dropped all the children home at their respective addresses and drove herself home. She arrived at her address, parked in her driveway, locked up the van and left to attend a funeral," the tribunal said.

The girl's family were concerned when she didn't come home, and rang the police. Police could not contact Lam-Sam-Tai because she had turned her phone off, but found the van in her driveway and rescued the girl, who "was reportedly upset but not traumatised".

The tribunal's censure will remain on the teachers' register for two years, and the tribunal ordered Lam-Sam-Tai to inform any employer that she works for in those two years about the censure. She was ordered to pay $2955 in costs.

The tribunal also censured a teacher at the Epuni Kindergarten in Lower Hutt, Grant Swinton-Robertson, for taking three boxes of toys home from the kindergarten for his children to use between December 2015 and August 2016. His censure will also remain on the register for two years.