Council fined after child, 6, leaves after-school care alone
BYRON Shire Council has received three criminal convictions and fines over lapses at an out-of-school-hours care centre, including an incident where a six-year-old girl left the facility alone.
A representative of the council was present for a sentencing hearing before Byron Bay Local Court on Friday.
The council had been charged with one count of a child in its care not being adequately supervised and two counts of an approved provider not complying with conditions at the OOSH care centre, which is run by the council but based at Brunswick Heads Public School.
The first, most serious, charge, related to an incident where a six-year-old girl left the premises alone about 5pm on December 8, 2017.
The court heard she crossed Fingal Rd and was found by some women near the Vinnies store.
The girl left the school grounds through a gap in the fence that was designed to make the school more wheelchair-accessible.
According to court documents, the girl asked the adults if they could help her find her mother, and gave them her mobile number.
The other charges related to the Department of Education not being informed of new staff starting with the care centre.
The council had pleaded guilty to all three charges - which could attract maximum fines of $50,000 each - on May 2.
Defence solicitor Ralph James asked Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy to consider sparing the council a conviction or penalty.
This was opposed by prosecutor representing the NSW Department of Education, Gillian Buchan.
According to an affidavit from the council's manager of social and cultural planning, Sarah Ford, they had negotiated with the school to "move the service from the school hall to a dedicated classroom" which was "in a more protected space in the school, further from roads and gates".
Ms Buchan said "general deterrence" was important in cases such as these, involving "inadequate supervision" of a child who was "particularly vulnerable".
Mr James said "significant" steps had been taken since the incident to avoid a repeat.
Magistrate Dunlevy said guidelines on such care centres included that "the rights and best interests of the child are to be paramount ... and that best practise is expected".
He said while there was "some degree of injury or harm suffered by a small child", there was not an "extraordinary amount" of harm.
He took into account the council's lack of prior criminal record and action taken since the incident.
"It would appear if anything positive has come from this experience, it has been an educative one for the council," he said.
"It would appear ... council has taken this matter very seriously.
"I accept the council has directly addressed the principal causes of these offences."
He recorded a conviction on all three offences and fined the council a total of $6750.
Part of this fine will be paid to the Department of Education.
The council was also ordered to pay the Department of Education's legal costs of $5404.