Nursery boss left toddler in car for five hours

Posted: 27th March 2014

ToddlersA nursery school owner who left a three-year-old girl strapped inside a car for more than five hours – after 'completely forgetting' about her – has had her registration as a child minder cancelled by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) despite her previously unblemished 46-year career in professional child care.

The woman was giving the little girl a lift to the nursery as an ad hoc favour for her mother. When she arrived, she automatically picked up her handbag, locked the car and went to work – leaving the toddler strapped into her car seat.

She went back to her car at the end of the day and drove to an after-school club to pick up other children before realising what she had done. By that time, the girl had been trapped in the car for more than five hours, without food, water or toilet facilities. The child had been away from the nursery the previous week, suffering from chicken pox, so that her absence had gone unnoticed.

The woman drove straight to the girl’s parents’ home in a 'very distressed' state and immediately confessed to what had happened. She was tearful and in shock and told the mother, "I've done something awful. I've ruined the nursery and let everybody down. I've ruined it for the children."

Ravaged by guilt, she offered the child a free place at the nursery. However, the mother later withdrew her daughter and reported the matter to the local authority. The woman, who was on the verge of retirement and handing over the business to her daughter, was immediately suspended by Ofsted.

Her lawyers argued that she was under severe strain due to her concerns over her mother's care in a nursing home and presented psychiatric evidence that she was depressed at the time. What happened was a ‘one-off and inadvertent absent-minded mistake’ which should be viewed as ‘an aberration’.

The FTT noted that it was only by ‘good luck and chance’ that the child had not come to serious harm. The woman had not reported the incident to Ofsted herself and the nursery had not expected the child’s attendance. It was a matter of serious concern that the child’s name had not appeared on the register that day.

Directing cancellation of the woman’s registration, the FTT observed, "A professional offering child care for up to 100 children at any one time should be able to say with certainty which children will be attending on any particular day. The sequence of events leading to the child being left in the vehicle simply highlighted the risks presented from lax conduct around children's attendance which placed children at unnecessary risk of harm or neglect."