Council responds to court action

Published on 03 June 2019

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Byron Shire Council has been fined $4500 after an incident at the Brunswick Heads Outside of Hours School Care service on 8 December 2017.

On 2 May 2019 Council pleaded guilty to the offence of failing to ensure that a child being educated and cared for by the service was adequately supervised at all times that the child was in the care of the service. The maximum penalty was a fine of $50,000.

The sentence proceedings took place in the Byron Bay Local Court on Friday 31 May 2019.

On 8 December 2017 a six-year-old child left the Brunswick Heads Outside of Hours School Care service, which is operated within the grounds of the Brunswick Heads Public School.  She left via an unfenced area used by the school as an access point for people with disabilities between 5:00pm – 5:10pm. The child walked down Fingal Street and approached two women requesting them to contact her mother.

Staff noticed the child was absent about 5:10pm and immediately started a search of the school. At 5:35pm, as staff were preparing to search beyond the school, the child was returned to the service by her mother.

Council self-reported the incident to the NSW Department of Education, which regulates Outside of Hours School Care services. The Department commenced an investigation with which Council fully cooperated.

On 18 March 2019 the Department of Education took court action against Council.

The court recognised that Council had entered a plea of guilty on the first opportunity it could and that it had fully cooperated with the investigation. The court also recognised the significant efforts that Council had taken to restructure the physical environment of the service and its childcare practices and procedures to prevent a similar incident occurring in the future.

The court found that the breach was not flagrant and that Council had taken it very seriously and had learned lessons which had been put into practice.

The Department also brought proceedings against council for failing to comply with the conditions of its provider approval on two occasions by failing to give certain notices as to staff changes within the prescribed period. The maximum penalty for each was a fine of $50,000. The court found these offences to be non-deliberate administrative oversights which fell to the lower end of seriousness. The court imposed fines of $1500 and $750.

For more information contact Ralph James, Legal Counsel, on 6626 7000.