Vigilance urged after toddler wanders from preschool

WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 17:42 20/08/2014

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The Ministry of Education is asking New Zealand preschool staff to be doubly vigilant about children left unattended, saying it is viewing a Dunedin case with extreme seriousness.

Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey reiterated the ministry's reaction to the Dunedin case, where a child wandered away from the centre undetected on Monday, this afternoon.

As the ministry investigated, it was taking the incident "extremely seriously", Casey told Stuff in a statement.

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The incident had involved a small child crossing a busy road, she said.

"[It] is a reminder to all early childhood centres to check and double-check that children can't leave unattended.

"We need to have complete confidence this does not happen again."

The child is Regan Preston, 2, whose mother, Vicky Preston, went to the media outraged over the incident.

Regan was able to wander out of the preschool onto Dunedin's busy Macandrew Rd and was located by a member of the public 100 metres away from the preschool.

Casey told Fairfax Media the ministry was reviewing service licence of Punavai Ole Atamai Preschool as part of its investigation of the incident. 

"We are always concerned when we hear of incidents where the safety of young children has been put at risk," she said.

"Thankfully, in this case the child was returned safely to the centre by police."

Casey said the ministry's Dunedin office had arranged a meeting with Regan's parents to discuss the incident.

"The mother has not laid a formal complaint with us, but in a situation of this seriousness a complaint isn't necessary for us to take action."

The ministry's investigation had so far established the most likely way the child left the centre was by slipping through the front door when an adult was coming or going, and then by walking through the pre-school's outer gate.

Casey said the since the investigation had begun, a fault to the preschool's outer gate had been repaired. A broken hinge spring on the gate meant it did not always close properly.

Preschool staff had also put up extra notices on the door and gate reminding people to ensure they closed them properly.

"The front door is heavy, and cannot be pushed open by a child. It swings shut automatically. The outer gate has a high latch that could not be reached by a child, and that is designed to click shut after someone has been through the gate," Casey said.

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However due to the worn spring, the gate did not always shut as intended.

"This would have allowed the child to leave after someone had come through the gate."

Casey said staffing did not appear to have been a factor in the incident.

"At the time this happened, five staff members were required to be on duty, but there were eight staff present."

- Stuff

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