Early Childhood Council President, Darius Singh, and Centre Issues.
The Ministry of Education uncovered regulatory breaches at Fern Garden Preschool and Childcare Centre in Tauranga, following a complaint made against it. This would not be particularly noteworthy if it were not for:
- The large number of breaches across key areas of child health and safety, premises and facilities, management practices, and curriculum.
- The fact that the centre is owned by the President of the Early Childhood Council (ECC), Darius Singh (along with wife Nikeeta Singh).
In the light of what was uncovered a question that many may see as being a reasonable question to ask the Ministry is – has it checked the quality of the ECC’s management and other guidance before referring centres to the ECC for membership?
As President of the ECC, Mr Darius Singh may be seen as a role model by other centre owners. He is also a spokesperson for centres that pay the ECC for representation. For example, during the Delta outbreak in 2021 Mr Darius Singh said in an ECC press release calling for it to be made easier to bring in foreign teachers, that he needed to bring in 15 foreign teachers to staff a new centre.
- The possibility that breaches had been going on for a long time (and well before September 2020 when the complaint was made. The Ministry of Education has not revealed for how long. However, an Education Advisor noted that part of the complaint mentioned “there has been no budget for over 15 months” for equipment etc.)
The complaint alleged that:
- There was not sufficient quantity of indoor and outdoor equipment and equipment was of substandard quality. Equipment was old and not sufficient to be providing for the education and care of the children.
- The windows were poor in the sleep room area and kitchen, also catches were broken in a lot of rooms.
- Leaking gutters and roofs in the outdoor area were hazardous on wet days – leaking onto the decks.
- Parents had been asking for documentation regarding the budget and how this was allocated for equipment and material costs for the ongoing purchase of new equipment and materials etc.
The Ministry noted in relation to the complaint that the centre was “operating outside of licence” (what this means is not clear and more information has been requested on this).
The complaint was received on Sept 1, 2020. The Ministry informed the centre by phone of the complaint on Sept 3, 2020, and visited the centre on Sept 8, 2020 to discuss the complaint. An investigation for licence breaches was undertaken just over one month later on Oct 14, 2020.
The breaches identified on October 14 were:
- Reg 47/GMA7: Equal employment opportunities policy – last reviewed 2011. New staff roles and positions policy last reviewed 2014. The HR induction procedure was updated in 2015 to include the Children’s Act but this was not sighted in the procedure.
- GMA7 Documentation Human Resources: Not all staff had evidence of a completed induction or engagement with the staff appraisal process.
The service provided a written procedure for staff safety checking that does not meet requirements.
Safety checking results were not all present on the day.
- Reg 45/PF13: Infants and toddlers do not have any direct access to the outdoor play space.
- Reg 46/HS31: The centre’s Child Protection Policy does not have provisions for identifying child abuse and neglect. The response flow chart does not have all required responsive steps if a staff member has allegedly abused a child. There is no mention of reporting to Ministry of Education when reporting to other agencies.
- Reg 46/HS12: The centre has a daily checklist that does not meet the minimum hazards that must be included for consideration.
The centre is unsure of how to use information on children’s accidents and injuries to make changes to mitigate risk to children.
The service has a risk register split last updated July 2019. Ministry discussed how visitors and or new staff are inducted into the service to be aware of these potential risks. This process could be strengthened.
- Reg 46/HS17: Trips have not all been approved by the Person Responsible (wording on the template is ‘Manager sign’ – however signatures were missing). The procedure was last reviewed in 2018 and does not have compliant information guiding practices to implement when undertaking an excursion.
- Reg 46/HS18 The procedure does not require staff to obtain written permissions from parents before travel in a motor vehicle whilst in the car of the service begins.
- Reg 47/GMA1: No Licencing Criteria 2008, displayed at the centre for parents and visitors.
- Reg 47/GMA1 Documentation: The centre’s complaint procedure referred parents to the Auckland Ministry of Education contact phone number and not the local Tauranga office.
- Reg 45/PF12 #: There was no means of checking temperature in the play space at .5m.
- Reg 46/HS22: Observed a child sitting by herself at the dining table with a plate of food. Asked the cook whose responsibility it is to supervise the child, she said she doesn’t mind keeping an eye on them – this is possibly normal practice. Observed the children eating lunch. Teachers were inconsistent with their supervision. Up and down getting items. Observed all 3 teachers with their backs to the children while standing at the bench.
- HS27 Documentation: Most entries of accidents, injuries and illnesses that occurred at the centre were complete. Some were missing parent acknowledgement.
- S27 Documentation: The service procedure does not have information regarding when to notify the Ministry of Education in case of a serious and or reported incident/accident.
- S28 Documentation: An action plan for managing a child’s health and medication was displayed but was not signed or dated. It states that it will be reviewed every 3 months with the parents.
The service policy and procedure are not relevant to Fern Garden centre – contact details. It has category 1 medications the centre can administer that do not correspond to the permissions form. The enrolment form – requires updating.
- Reg 46/HS29: No evidence of, and no written record of training and/or information provided to adults who administer medicine to children (other than their own)
- HS9 Documentation: Observed poor practice of checking two babies in the cot room.
Use of a monitor in the cot room, while teachers and other babies are outside.
Physical checks were not being routinely performed.
Signing off of an hours’ worth of sleep times in one go once this was observation was mentioned to the centre.
- Reg 46/HS10 #: Observed a toddler asleep in the lower of a bunk cot. This toddler could stand and walk and would not be able to wake safely due to the space around the cot.
- Reg 45/PF2: There were plenty of teachers. However, observed a child outside on his own and no staff noticed him missing from the group of children eating.
- Reg 46/HS1 #: The light/ extractor in the nappy change bathroom needs to be cleaned and recovered. See photo. The drink fountain outside needs to be cleaned and unclogged from bark and sand. See photo. In the Nappy changing room, the shower could not be accessed safely as it has excess equipment.
- Reg 46/HS7: The service needs to increase their emergency supplies for the number of children and adults.
- GMA4 Involving Parents: The service was unable to provide evidence that parents were offered an opportunity to contribute towards internal evaluation.
- GMA6 Centre Reviews: The service undertook an internal evaluation/self-review of planning and assessment which was completed in 2020. However, there is no evidence of recorded outcomes or how the review has improved the centre’s quality of its education and care.
- GMA8 Annual Plan: The services annual plan has ‘who’ missing in some sections.
- GMA10 Enrolment Records: Service declarations were not signed.
- GMA11 Attendance Records: The service currently uses Discover and have complete separate forms for under two’s and over twos.
The service’s staff do not mark the attendance records daily.
- Reg 43/C2: Inconsistent evaluations made for children, this needs to be strengthened and in place for all learners.
- Reg 43/C3 and C4: A new child (2 years old) was at the centre on only her second day of attendance. She spent 2-3 hours crying, unsettled, and mostly by herself. Observed one staff member walk right past her as she cried and did not stop to comfort, talk or acknowledge her. The practice of several staff on the day was especially noted when no comfort, distraction or attempts were made to help settle a new 2-year-old. Staff were not using any strategies or techniques, they also let her cry for an unreasonably long period of time.
- Curriculum criteria documentation: C2: The centre needs support to evaluate children’s learning. C3: Teaching staff need support to ensure they are providing nurturing relationships for all tamariki. C4: Teaching staff need to develop and grow their knowledge of theory and best practice to support tamariki.
Five weeks after its check of the centre, the Ministry placed Fern Garden Preschool on official notice to improve by downgrading its full licence to a provisional licence (on Nov 23, 2020). The provisional licence (see below) shows the conditions required to be met before the full licence could be restored.
The Ministry of Education also provided the owners with tax-payer funded SELO support to assist staff and uplift the centre practices, policies and procedures.
On March 3, 2021 the Ministry of Education issued another provisional licence, providing an extension of time to June 30, 2021 to meet 6 outstanding licensing conditions.
* Article first published May 18, 2021, updated March 8, 2022.
- Ministry of Education
- Scoop website
- ECC website
Corrections are welcome.