The NSW Labor Opposition has accused the Berejiklian Government of being derelict in its oversight of the state’s early childhood sector – after it upgraded a centre’s quality rating despite an ongoing investigation into the tragic death of a 16-month-old girl in its care.
Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Jodie Harrison said today that the story, revealed on last night’s ABC 730, left parents with crippling doubts over the Government’s entire system for assessing the quality and safety of early childhood centres in NSW.
“It is shocking that Education Minister Sarah Mitchell is refusing to answer extremely serious questions about why her Government upgraded the rating of an early childhood centre, despite an ongoing investigation into the death of a child,” Ms Harrison said.
“A failure like this has wide ramifications for tens of thousands of infants being cared for in centres that may have also been incorrectly rated.”
“It is also disgraceful the Berejiklian Government is blocking attempts by the family of the deceased child to obtain a copy of any internal inquiries into her death.”
In August 2018, Jozef Maragol and Anet Eyvazians dropped their 18-month-old daughter Arianna off at the Berry Patch centre in Sydney.
While Arianna went to sleep at 9am, by midday her parents had received a call from the centre that she was no longer responsive. She died that day and an autopsy was found to be inconclusive.
National standards mandate that staff “are always within sight and hearing distance of sleeping and resting children so that they can assess a child’s breathing and the colour of their skin”.
The Berry Patch policy merely states that every child is to be checked every 10 minutes, however it is alleged staff did not even meet these guidelines.
Despite this, and the fact there was an ongoing investigation into Arianna’s death, in August 2019 the Berejiklian Government increased Berry Patch’s quality rating from “meeting” expectations to “exceeding” them under federally approved standards.
“My heart goes out to Arianna’s parents,” Ms Harrison said.
“The Berejiklian Government is responsible for ensuring that early childhood education services in NSW are safe – so what on earth is Minister Sarah Mitchell doing to ensure public confidence in those quality checks?”
“Here we have a very young child who has died in an early childhood education setting – and all that we have are unanswered questions.”
“Quality assessments should always consider the compliance history of the service.”
“So why has the Berejiklian Government awarded Berry Patch centre an upgrade in its assessment despite an investigation into a death being underway?”
“And why is Minister Sarah Mitchell failing to answer questions? She should have been taking a very active interest in the assessment of this service – but it seems that hasn’t been the case at all.”
“Parents all over NSW have the right to know that the licensing and assessment system ensures their children are safe.”
“There have now been two tragic deaths in early childhood centres in NSW in less than eight months.”
“This tragic death – and the Berejiklian Government’s incompetent response to it – raises the prospect that more children could die or be injured within early childhood services in NSW.”
Minister Mitchell failed to contact Arianna’s parents until very recently when it became apparent the media were interested in the story.