Two-year-old girl wanders away from child care centre in Newfoundland

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A Newfoundland family wants a review of daycare regulations after a two-year-old girl who wandered away from a St. John’s child care centre was returned unharmed.

“Certainly accidents happen but you can’t lose a baby,” Danielle Douglas, the toddler’s aunt, said Monday. “We’re talking about a child that doesn’t have language skills, who can’t communicate.

“It was the middle of winter. She could have succumbed to exposure if she wasn’t discovered immediately.”

Douglas said her niece went out through a gate Thursday during outdoor play time and walked away from the Discovery Days Children’s Centre.

She said the little girl was dressed in outdoor clothes and sitting on the steps of a home just across a residential street when a neighbour noticed her.

Gordie Kennedy said in a Facebook post that he and his girlfriend had just arrived home Thursday. He said the girl came back across the street and was walking around his yard so he picked her up and checked with his neighbours.

“I thought the lady across the street might be her parents but they weren’t so I went to the daycare with her. I am so glad we came home when we did. I am glad she’s safe with her family now.”

Douglas said her niece had just started full days at the centre and won’t be returning. A police review of surveillance video indicates the girl was lost for about 15 minutes, she added.

“They should have been aware that a child could push through this gate and get out,” she said. “They should have known immediately that they were short a child and they should have been the ones to call police.”

Operations manager Andrea Blair said two playroom staff and the centre administrator were jointly responsible for what happened. They’ll receive written warnings but no one has been fired, she said Monday as children played indoors in the little building on a quiet street in the Kilbride area of St. John’s.

“This has never happened,” she said. “So far there’s only really three parents that are really concerned. Most of our parents have been with us awhile.

“The staff are very upset, very shaken up.

“We’re all upset.”

Blair said 15 children were out playing Thursday with appropriate staffing when the toddler slipped unseen out a gate that had not been properly latched. She said it was reinforced Friday with a deadbolt system.

“This is a huge nightmare. Safety is one of our biggest concerns. You’re always counting as they’re lining up to go outside, counting when you get down and then you need to do your periodic counting when you’re outside as well.”

Blair said staff had realized the little girl was missing and were searching for her when she was returned.

It’s the second major recent incident after a child was forgotten and left locked inside another St. John’s daycare last December, Douglas said.

“Do we have regulations that are strong enough? What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

“If we keep going the way we’re going, something else is going to happen and we’re just asking for a fatality to occur,” Douglas said. “I would like to see some action from our policy makers.”

The provincial education and early childhood development department said in a statement the centre is co-operating and violations will be issued. It says no charges will be laid and it’s up to licensees to discipline staff.

“We continue to work with child care providers to develop stronger safety practices.”

A provincial government registry indicates violation orders were issued against the same centre in August 2016 for inaccurate homeroom registers, including children who were on a field trip but not signed out. Another in July 2016 says a staff member did not have a valid child protection records check on file.

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

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