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Townsville childcare centre owners fined $35,000 after four-year-old girl left in bus

Townsville childcare centre owners fined $35,000 after four-year-old girl left in bus
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While touring a north Queensland childcare centre, a woman heard screaming.

Looking inside the centre’s bus parked outside, she saw a visibly upset young girl restrained in her seat.

“She was screaming and she was red,” Magistrate Rosemary Gilbert said on Wednesday.

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The four-year-old girl was removed from the bus and taken inside by childcare staff after the woman yelled for help.

The child had wet herself and her water bottle was empty.

A childcare employee had earlier picked up the girl from her home and taken her to the Townsville centre in July 2021.

However, the child was left inside the bus by the employee when they arrived at 9am.

The girl was the only child in the vehicle.

“Whilst the bus was not locked, the doors and windows were closed,” Gilbert said.

The temperature at the time was 22.5C with 97 per cent humidity.

The child was discovered in the bus by the woman more than an hour later.

The woman had just received a tour of the centre from the same employee who had picked up the girl and left her in the vehicle.

The employee was distraught after the girl was discovered and acknowledged it was her fault.

She was in tears and apologised “frantically”, almost dry-retching.

Affinity Education Group Limited, owners of the Milestones Early Learning Centre in West End in Townsville, was fined $35,000 over the incident. Credit: Google Maps

The employee driving the bus that day was juggling three roles at the Milestones Early Learning The Lakes centre due to staff illness, the court heard.

The child was taken to hospital and cleared of injury.

“But there was of course that significant risk of harm and that is the pertinent feature here,” Gilbert said.

Staff at the centre were trained using online modules, downloading them and ticking a box to acknowledge they understood them, the court heard.

However, it was considered there was some ambiguity in their child pick-up and drop-off procedures.

There was no procedure in place for the situation that arose that day when a single employee was transporting children.

The Department of Education had also sent nine emails or newsletters between January 2020 and May 2021 to all providers about the safe transport of children, the court heard.

“One would have to consider that the centre was very much put on notice,” Gilbert said.

The centre’s owners, Affinity Education Group Limited, has no criminal history.

However, the Townsville incident marked its third contravention for inadequate supervision provided by its centres in the past five years, the court heard.

Affinity had taken significant steps since the incident, including a thorough review of transportation procedures and installation of a child check alarm system in buses, the court heard.

Affinity pleaded guilty to failing to adequately supervise children and failing to protect children from harm and/or hazard likely to cause injury.

It was fined $35,000 with no conviction recorded and ordered to pay $1700 costs in Brisbane Magistrates Court.

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