10 December 2021

Missing children and inadequate supervision: serious early childhood and care complaints revealed

| Lottie Twyford
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Yvette Berry with kids at early education centre

ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry at a Canberra early childhood education centre. Photo: Supplied.

Of the more than 1500 complaints and incidents reported in the ACT’s early childhood and care sector during the 2020-2021 financial year, the most serious of them related to allegations of harm to children, missing or unaccounted for minors, inadequate supervision, and non-compliant staffing arrangements.

According to the ACT Education Directorate’s annual report, the ACT’s regulatory body for the education and care sector, Children’s Education and Care Assurance (CECA) assessed 1516 notifications of incidents or complaints which occurred at service providers around the Territory.

CECA was required to investigate 49 of these matters.

Others were managed by the providers or were not relevant to the Education and Care Services National Law, the report read.

At the end of June 2021, 19 investigations were in progress, while 49 were closed during the financial year.

Five of the completed investigations had been carried over from the previous financial year, the report said.

A spokesperson for the ACT Education Directorate clarified that not all of the 1516 notifications should be considered complaints.

“The overwhelming majority of these notifications are related to minor incidents, including minor cuts and the like due to children falling over,” said the spokesperson.

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During the financial year, CECA undertook 128 compliance actions which ranged from “administrative letters, conditions on providers or service approvals, enforceable undertakings, emergency action notices, compliance directions and compliance notices”.

Some of these actions also extended to suspensions or cancellations of provider or service approvals.

CECA also rates and assesses all education and care services in the sector.

Of the 370 which are approved in the ACT, 44.4 per cent achieved an ‘exceeding’ rating; 32 per cent achieved a ‘meeting rating’; and 23 per cent of services had a ‘working towards’ rating.

These figures are broadly consistent with what was recorded in 2020, although the report noted the percentage of services with a ‘working towards’ rating has continued to decline year on year.

In 2017, 47 per cent of services were given this rating. It dropped to 20 per cent in 2018, and was 25 per cent in 2020.

ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry said it is good to see a strong culture of notifications in the early childhood education and care sector in the ACT.

“This sector provides an invaluable service to families and gives our children early learning to set them up for life,” she said.

“I am confident the ACT regulatory authority investigates and takes action on matters as appropriate.”

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In the ACT, the early childhood education and care sector is governed by the Education and Care Services National Law (the National Law) which established a nationwide uniform approach to the protection of children when in the care of people other than their parents and guardians.

To protect children from harm and hazards, or address otherwise unlawful conduct, CECA can also impose strict prohibition and emergency action notices, or remove children.

A commonly breached element of the law is the requirement to adequately supervise children while in care, notes CECA’s website.

The full ACT Education Directorate 2020-2021 annual report is publicly available online.

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I would’ve thought that missing kids from a childcare facility would be more newsworthy. Why is this the first time I’ve heard this…

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