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More Children are Escaping from ECE Services

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Children leaving their early childhood centre.

The number of children escaping from early childhood services is increasing according to reports and complaints received by the Ministry of Education. In 2023, 57 children left the premises of the early childhood service their parents had trusted their care to. In 2020, the number was 34 children. The definition of an ‘escape’ used by the Ministry is a child who has left the premises without the knowledge of adults providing care to the child.

Half of the children (28) were caught immediately after leaving and brought back to the ECE service. Twenty-nine were not.

In only 5 instances did the Ministry of Education put the service involved on official notice to improve, by placing it on a provisional licence and so other families would know that procedures for child safety and supervision had not followed.

Chief Advisor to the Office of Early Childhood Education, Dr Sarah Alexander, said there has been concern for many years that children can escape, often onto busy roads in the path of traffic, when services do not have safe adult-to-child ratios for supervision and staff do not know where a child is at all times while in their care.

“Nothing has been done to address this concern. Child escapes will keep happening,” said Dr Alexander.

Children are put at danger because of inadequate staffing ratios and problems with supervision.

“There’s a focus on improving security to stop escapes. But if all ECEs were great places that every child wanted to be in and not run away from, we wouldn’t need to have gates to keep children in,” said Dr Alexander.

Issues include inadequate adult-to-child ratios, greater use of teachers who are not qualified in ECE and teachers who have not developed their supervision skills, teachers coping with more children with behaviour problems without support, and teachers not having enough time to get to know individual children and their needs and personalities.

“These issues need to be addressed. It’s wrong in so many ways for the ECE sector to be left by government to slide into a future where the only solution to prevent child escapes is child jails – enormous fences, barbed wire and ankle bracelets”.

Read more:

Cases of Children escaping and the responsibilities of the ECE service provider

Policy and procedures template and guidance for services on preventing escapes and losing children

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