By Charlotte Cook of RNZ
A teacher who reported an early childhood centre for punishing toddlers by putting them in isolation or forcing them to sit on a mat for hours fears the abuse is continuing.
The woman complained about the Waikato preschool four years ago and heard nothing back from the Ministry of Education about the investigation until RNZ made inquiries last week.
The ministry said it investigated and found nothing wrong, but the teacher said officials did not look hard enough and she worried about the children who were still there.
For four years she thought about the children she taught at the Waikato centre in 2017 and the complaint she felt was never heard.
The academic and fully qualified early childhood teacher didn't stay long because of the control and restraint techniques she said were used as punishment for misbehaviour.
The woman said it was common practice for children to be put in the bathroom unsupervised for longer than 20 minutes if they used "toilet talk" - words like poo or bum.
"I remember one particular child had been put into the toilet and just forgotten about and when I went to check on him off my own bat I saw he was just swinging off the bars in there and he could have had an accident. Other things that would happen would be grabbing children by the arms and yanking them.
"I remember one case where a child was yanked by the arm and dragged across by a bookcase and banged his head on the bookcase."
She recalled a child being made to sit on a mat for three hours, crying the whole time, and others weren't helped with getting dressed or going to the toilet.
The teacher said she was disturbed by many of the behavioural management techniques and refused to use them because they were illegal.
"I totally think it was an unsafe environment for children on the level of their emotional development.
"I was concerned about their physical safety when it came to yanking them by the arms.
"I saw a teacher once pick up a child and put him down forcibly on his bottom, and you know, just pick him up out of sheer frustration and just put him down quite hard."
She complained directly to the centre's management but resigned because she felt so unsafe at work.
'The system is not working'
The woman then contacted the Ministry of Education. She had one meeting to discuss her concerns but there was no follow up.
"They appeared to take it seriously and then I heard nothing more, there was just this silence.
"I went and followed it up and they said that they would get back to me but they never did.
"So it feels that you are powerless to address the concerns. The system is not working."
After RNZ made inquiries about the complaint, officials offered the teacher another meeting.
In a statement, Deputy Secretary Katrina Casey said the complaint was investigated but not upheld.
"We conducted an unannounced visit of the service on 14 February 2017. We did not find any breaches to licensing regulations or evidence to support the concerns.
"We do not have any record of us going back to [the complainant] and updating her about the outcome of our investigation as is our usual practice.
"We also do not have any recorded correspondence or investigation notes about her safety concerns for herself so I cannot say if this was ever looked into."
Casey said there had been no other complaints about the centre other than one employment matter in 2018.
The teacher was not impressed by the response.
"I was stunned that they had done one unannounced visit to the centre and they felt that on the basis of that they could dismiss all my complaints.
"I felt that my allegations were quite serious and that they needed to have a response that matched that. "
She said the staff would not have behaved badly in front of ministry staff and she thought the children still at the centre could still be at risk.
"I felt almost in a way very guilty that I left the centre and that children were still being subjected to the kind of treatment that they experienced.
"I really felt quite depressed not only about losing my job but also about the fact that I wasn't there for those children any more."
The woman is not the only former teacher to feel let down by the ministry.
Teachers and parents from a Feilding childcare centre said the ministry made it hard to complain about the owner who is alleged to have mistreated children for years.
The ministry's complaints process would refer all complaints straight back to the owner of The Pitter Patter Education Centre.
The centre is currently under investigation and had its licence suspended for three weeks in November after complaints that toddlers were being smacked, locked in rooms as punishment, and fed mouldy food.
25 complaints in one week
The Teacher's Advocacy Group founder Susan Bates said processes have improved over the years, but teachers still have no trust in the ministry.
"Certainly the number of complaints that have come in and teachers are coming to me are too afraid to go to the ministry or they don't trust that the ministry will do the job, and they're also afraid of repercussions in their workplaces.
"So not much further ahead."
Bates said she usually gets about 30 complaints from teachers a month, but last week alone she had 25.
"We want to see safe reporting. We want teachers to have the efficacy to do it. We want them to have an organisation that is going to support and protect them while they're doing it.
"We need a lot more communication with the ministry. It seems to get less and not more.
"I don't know the answer, I just know that children are not in safe places."
Bates passes many of the anonymous complaints on to the ministry but believed there were more people out there who didn't speak out at all for fear of the repercussions.