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Don’t let children go missing

1 June 2020

It is a serious incident when a child in an education and care service is missing, unaccounted for or has been mistakenly locked in or out.

Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in these notifications. This is especially so for long day care and out of school hours care (OSHC) services.

Among long day care services, there has been an increase in these incidents at transition times. This is particularly when children move from outside to inside.

At OSHC, there has been an increase when children move from the classroom to OSHC and also when children are new to a service.

Some of the key places featured in these serious incident notifications are:

  • inside: bathrooms, hallways and foyers
  • outside: play equipment, including cubby houses; walls, fences and gates; buses and other transport; school grounds and excursion venues.

Keys to knowing where children are:

  1. Policies and procedures: Have clear policies and procedures. Consider how educators are supported to implement policies and procedures, e.g. induction, mentoring, etc. Also consider how children, especially those new to care, are supported to understand procedures and routines.
  2. Active supervision: This means educators watching carefully and being fully engaged in the situation to support all children all the time. Educators need to position themselves so they scan constantly to see where children are and what they are doing. When normal processes are challenged due to staff changes or unusual events, active supervision still needs to continue.
  3. Collection places: There must be clearly understood arrangements with the school for the way children will transition from school to OSHC. Some OSHC services have told us it works well to collect younger children (especially new ones and those who may require support) directly from the classroom and/or teacher. For older children, it can be helpful to have a regular meeting point. Consider choosing a meeting point away from parent–child collection traffic to avoid children being confused and/or distracted.
  4. Communication: It can help to have clear conversations between parents, educators and school staff about care bookings and any changes to the usual arrangements that might affect a child’s actual attendance. This is especially so when late or additional bookings are made.
  5. Double- and triple-checking: Have procedures to check that all children have arrived, come inside, boarded the bus, etc. Check all the places they could possibly be, especially during transition times.
  6. Head counts and/or buddies: Frequent head counts are an effective way to ensure everyone is where they should be. Giving each child a buddy also helps to quickly identify if someone is missing.

Don’t miss an opportunity to check where all children are at all times. Adequate and active supervision is the key to keeping children safe.

Make sure there are clear policies, procedures and routines that are consistently followed, particularly if the usual staff are not present or routines change. This is vital to avoiding the likelihood of these serious incidents.