8 November 2016
The accident at Discoveries Educare in Auckland where several toddlers were injured, one critically, after a tree fell in high winds was a rare and horrific event, ChildForum says.
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the children and their families,” ChildForum’s chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said today.
“Children will need cuddles and understanding now. Many may not outwardly show emotional effects for some days or weeks but such an event will have consequences on the children leading possibly to sleep disturbance and uncharacteristic behaviour and responses. Some may be more scared than others of being alone without an adult beside them or being near high objects or trees.”
However, the event should not be used by anyone to argue for trees to be banned from early childhood centres, Dr Alexander said.
Trees are important natural features and essential within a high quality playground for children. Trees should be available for children to sit under, play under and climb at every early childhood centre. Trees provide shade in summer, shelter in rain, and leaves falling in autumn provide fun for children and materials for art work.
“Until investigations are complete and we know what caused the tree to fall and what might have been done to keep the children safe, it is not possible to make any recommendations.’’
Dr Alexander said the event had highlighted several needs in the way early childhood centres are regulated -- and expectations of teachers, staff, managers and owners.
Currently, the licensing criteria states that at every early childhood centre there must be a daily check for hazards to children, and hazards must be isolated, minimised or eliminated. The list of possible hazards to consider does not mention trees specifically.
Owners and teachers are not necessarily equipped with the skills to know when trees or other objects are unsafe, or to identify other hazards.
The owner of Discoveries Educare said he has held concerns about the tree since the centre opened three years ago. However he did not believe that it was at risk of falling over.
“This incident could, perhaps, lead to the Ministry of Education looking into what training owners and teachers have and whether trees are regularly checked by an expert in the care of trees -- an arborist.
“When there are high winds or other adverse weather conditions it is important that teachers are allowed to exercise flexibility in their delivery of the curriculum and can use their judgment to keep children indoors or away from areas that can become unsafe very quickly,” Dr Alexander said.
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