Okeedokee Kids Trust, the approved provider of a Coomera Rivers early childhood service, has been fined $15,600 following an incident on 22 October 2020 in which two children were able to escape from the service through an unlocked gate. Passing school children prevented the toddlers from crossing a busy road.
The department, as the Queensland Early Childhood Regulatory Authority, prosecuted Okeedokee Kids Trust in the Southport Magistrates Court following its investigation into the incident, which was captured on dash cam and internal CCTV footage.
Okeedokee pleaded guilty to four charges, including failure to:
- ensure children were adequately supervised
- take every reasonable precaution to protect children from harm and hazards likely to cause injury
- ensure children did not leave the service unless in prescribed circumstances
- take reasonable steps to ensure staff followed policies and procedures.
The first and second charges are offences under the National Law while the third and fourth are charges under the National Regulations.
On 8 November 2021, in hearing submissions on penalty, Magistrate Joan White said parents place a high level of trust in a service and this incident could have resulted in death or serious injury.
She considered the defendant's remorse, cooperation with the Regulatory Authority, prompt response to the incident, and their acknowledgement that had policies and procedures been followed, the incident would not have occurred.
The Magistrate also observed that if the children had been supervised, they would not have been able to access the road.
The Regulatory Authority will continue to hold approved providers accountable for their obligations under the National Law regarding the safety and wellbeing of children in their care.
Okeedokee Kids Trust's prosecution sends a strong message to approved providers that they have an overriding responsibility to protect the children in their care and, where measures are inadequate, the department will not hesitate to take appropriate action.
The department will continue to work with the sector to promote the importance of adequate supervision and the obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure staff follow policies and procedures, both of which are
regulatory priorities for 2021–2022.