30 Jan 2020

Major breaches found at kindergarten after disabled boy's fall

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 30 January 2020

The mother of a young disabled boy badly injured in an accident at a south Auckland kindergarten says there has been no justice for her son, even after the kindergarten was found to have breached multiple health and safety rules.

In October 2019, four-year-old Masua Tusa - who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair - suffered extensive facial injuries after he fell down stairs at Manurewa West Kindergarten, while he was supposed to be supervised.  

No one sought medical attention for him at the time, and his mother Milly only discovered his injuries when she went to collect him in the afternoon.  

Documents released to Checkpoint by the Ministry of Education show Manurewa West Kindergarten was placed on a provisional licence and required to meet certain conditions including retraining staff.

Its licence was only reinstated two days before Christmas.

Masua's mother Milly Tusa said her normally happy boy has changed since he fell down the stairs at Manurewa West Kindergarten in October 2019, while strapped in his wheelchair.

He has not returned to kindergarten since then, and is not keen to start school this year, as he is anxious, his mother told Checkpoint.

"I try and make it sound like I am happy he is going to primary. [I say]: 'Son you going to go … to big boys' school?' And he turns around like 'no mummy, I stay home with mummy'."

Ms Tusa said when she asks why, he says he does not like school, and he is scared.

"It breaks my heart… One incident changed my son's mindset for life. One accident, that teachers think was so minor, has traumatised my son.

"The effect that it's had on me is that unless it's my family that's looking after my son, I don't trust anyone looking after my son."

When Masua fell down the stairs he landed directly on concrete, severely grazing his face.

It was his third, and worst, fall at the kindergarten in nine months.

The kindergarten was found to be in serious breach of health and safety regulations, documents released under the Official Information Act show.

The teacher who looked after Masua following his most recent fall did not seek further medical treatment or advice from head office, as required under the kindergarten's health and safety policy.

Masua waited without medical help until 4pm when his mother arrived to find out about the incident. She took him straight to a doctor.

"I don't know how they became professionals if they don't know the stuff they're supposed to know, especially when they told me they were able to look after a kid that's bound to a wheelchair," Ms Tusa said.

Details around Masua's two falls at the kindergarten in February and June 2019 have been mostly redacted, but the documents show staff did not follow health and safety policy on those occasions either.  

"Policy and procedure requires staff to apply first aid, assess the child and situation, contact parent/emergency, contact and call head office for further advice and support," Ministry of Education instructions said.

"A list of considerations regarding the injury, illness or incident will be made, which will then lead to further action, including contacting an ambulance."

It was found that kindergarten staff were ignorant to the policies and did not understand or carry out their full responsibilities.

The Education Ministry identified 10 serious breaches of health and safety protocol, including medical assistance, a training emergency plan, hazard checklist, and children being washed when soiled.

"I really just don't like that kindy," Ms Tusa said.

"I hate going past that kindergarten… I'm not saying I hate the staff, I don't like the way they handled my son's situation."

A medical opinion sought by police found Masua's injuries were consistent with an accident, but they are still concerned about the similarity between Masua's June and October falls, and the lack of medical assistance or follow-up by staff.

Ms Tusa is adamant the kindergarten did not contact her on the day of the October accident. Documents show the information on Masua's contact form were not complete.

"Even if they couldn't get hold of me as they said, they should have taken him to the doctors, not just sit there and expect it to just go away," Ms Tusa said.

The Ministry of Education suspended Manurewa West Kindergarten's full licence - just over a week after Masua's October fall, issuing it with a provisional licence.

That required the kindergarten to meet conditions including professional development for staff, and providing proof staff understood their responsibilities in the case of an accident.

The kindergarten's full licence was reinstated on December 23.

Ms Tusa told Checkpoint she is still not sure exactly how her son fell down the stairs, and why the specialised carer that should have been caring for Masua one on one - was not with him.

"They should only take in children they can handle. If they know they can't handle certain children, they should be honest," Ms Tusa said.

The Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association that manages the Manurewa West Kindergarten along with 26 others has not replied to requests for an interview.

Ms Tusa said for her, justice would be to see the kindergarten closed.

"That's all I want. But then I feel selfish. I feel heartless for all the other children that actually go there and enjoy that kindy."

Ministry of Education documents say the Teachers Council will conduct its own investigation.

But the council told Checkpoint it is still waiting on information from the Ministry.