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Look before you lock: do not leave children in vehicles

 
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Leaving children unattended in a car can result in serious injury or death.

On a typical Australian summer day, the temperature inside a parked vehicle can be 20 degrees to 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.

In as little as 5 minutes, the temperature in a vehicle can double, reaching dangerous levels extremely quickly.

The impact of heat on a child’s body is almost immediate and can be fatal.

A child’s body temperature rises 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, placing them at greater risk of life-threatening heat stroke, brain injury, heart and lung failure and dehydration.

A child left unaccounted for in a vehicle is also unprotected and vulnerable to danger, particularly in an emergency situation.

Early childhood services transporting children must be vigilant of the dangers of leaving children in vehicles and have strategies in place to manage the risks and protect children in their care.

Approved providers, nominated supervisors and family day care educators have obligations under the Education and Care Services National Law (Queensland) to ensure children are adequately supervised at all times, and that every reasonable precaution is taken to protect children from harm and from any hazard likely to cause injury.

Under Queensland law, it is illegal to leave the child under 12 unattended for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child.

Steps to prevent children being left unattended in vehicles

Approved providers should review their policies and procedures relating to the transportation of children, excursions, and drop-off and pick-up times.

The following 6 steps can ensure children’s safety at all times:

  1. Make sure your roll records are accurate and up to date
  2. Ensure your services policies and procedures support accurate and up-to-date roll record keeping, including for those times when children are being dropped off and collected from the service and during excursions. Ensure staff receive an induction and are retrained regularly in these policies.

  3. Conduct both roll checks and head counts
  4. Conducting roll checks as children enter and leave the vehicle is essential. Only conducting head counts can miss individual children as they arrive and depart, so you need to also tick off names on rolls, as well as count children. When completing roll checks, visually look at the child as they respond. If a child is not named on the roll, the educator should confirm with the service, school or the parent of the child whether they should be in care that day and update the roll accordingly.

  5. Thoroughly check the vehicle
  6. Conduct a physical inspection of the vehicle to ensure all children have exited the vehicle, including a check under the seats, in the luggage racks and in any storage areas.

  7. Conduct another roll check and head count upon entry to the service
  8. Once the children are in their respective room at the service or family day care home or venue, conduct another roll check and head count to ensure all children are accounted for.

  9. Check the vehicle again
  10. Have a second person physically check the vehicle again, including checking under the seats, in the luggage racks and in any storage areas.

  11. If a child is unaccounted for
    Immediately make all necessary enquiries to establish the child's whereabouts. You will need to conduct physical searches of the service and, if necessary, contact the child's family and/or the police.

All staff should receive a practical induction and regular, practical training relating to the transportation of children. It is important that these processes and procedures are rehearsed regularly.

It is every approved provider and educator’s responsibility to ensure children in their care are not left unattended in vehicles.

Penalties for services operating under the National Law: Failure to take reasonable precautions to protect children from harm and hazards may give rise to an offence under section 167 of the National Law. A failure to adequately supervise children may give rise to an offence under section 165 of the National Law. Both offences attract maximum fines of $10,000 for an individual and $50,000 in any other case.

Penalties for services operating under the Education and Care Services Act 2013: Failure to take reasonable precautions to protect children from harm and hazards such as these may give rise to an offence under section 122 of the Education and Care Services Act 2013 (the Act).  Also, a failure to adequately supervise children may give rise to an offence under section 121 of the Act. Both offences attract maximum penalty of 100 penalty units.
Note: If a corporation commits an offence against these provisions, each executive officer of the corporation may be taken under section 233 of the Act to have also committed the offence/s.

The Regulatory Authority will take appropriate action against services when a child has been placed at risk.

Unfortunately we have observed incidents recently where young children have been left unsupervised within vehicles for extended periods of time. Tragically one incident resulted in the death of a 3-year-old child. Read the letter to bus service operators and early childhood service providers (PDF, 98KB) from the Directors-General of the Departments of Transport and Main Roads, and Education.

More information

RACQ website: Dangers of leaving children in cars

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Last updated 27 February 2020