What could be done to prevent another tragedy like the Whanganui heatstroke toddler death?

parent pick upThis month a 16-month-old was found dead after his mum went to work, accidentally leaving him sleeping in his car seat and locked in the car in the Whanganui hospital carpark, forgetting that he was there and that she had not dropped him at his early childhood centre. This is a very tragic case.

There can be other situations too when a child does not turn up at an early childhood centre and a parent may not know or realise.   

In licensing regulations and in the criteria that sit alongside the regulations, there is no specification of what early childhood services should do regarding follow-up on the whereabouts of children. Therefore a service legally is doing no wrong if it does not follow-up on why a child is not attending as expected.
The ChildForum Early Childhood National Network recommended best practice on this issue is for every early childhood centre and home-based ECE service to leave a message or communicate with parents when a child's absence is unexplained. This is what schools do in New Zealand.  
It is for safety reasons, for example, when a parent is expected to drop a child off at the ECE service but breaches a custody arrangement and takes off with the child instead.
If the parents have not notified the early childhood service that the child will be absent it is important for the service to know if it is a health issue, especially if a child or family members are sick due to a communicable disease.
Keeping in touch with parents when there is an unexplained absence is also part of supporting attendance, along with letting families know that the service and its staff care enough about their child to make the effort to contact. 
We advise early childhood services to:
  • Request parents/caregivers to notify the service if the child will be absent (e.g. phone, text or email).  
  • If the parent/caregiver has not notified the service of their child's absence and the child has not arrived when expected then the service contacts the parent to check on the child’s absence. The expected time can vary for individual families depending upon their booking arrangement.
  • Should the parent not be able to be reached or not reply to messages, then the service contacts a person/s listed on the enrolment form as the child’s emergency contact.

In many workplaces cellphone use for personal calls is not permitted and parents may be too busy to answer their cell. So early childhood services are advised that when contacting parents, especially those who are in paid employment, that they also try parents' landline work phone numbers. 


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