17 Dec 2020

Further complaints about Feilding's Pitter Patter childcare centre revealed

6:37 pm on 17 December 2020

More parents and teachers have come forward about their experiences at a Feilding child care centre, which is under investigation.

The Pitter Patter Education Centre in Feilding.

The Pitter Patter Education Centre in Feilding. Photo: Google Street View

This morning RNZ revealed more than 17 people had told the Ministry of Education (MOE) that the owner and manager of Pitter Patter Education Centre would lock toddlers in rooms as punishment and smack them.

The Pitter Patter Education Centre had its licence suspended for three weeks in November but has since reopened.

MOE is still investigating and said it had passed the complaints on to the police.

This story has no connection to the Auckland childcare centre with the same name.

The complaints

The complaints focus on manager and owner Pauline Murphy and her treatment of children, staff and parents.

The investigation was launched after four Pitter Patter teachers resigned in a month and written complaints were given to the MOE.

In one complaint, a former teacher said she could no longer take it after seeing the way Murphy was treating children and staff for years.

Others said their mental health suffered and that than 20 teachers had left in a two year period.

"I was emotionally drained, and my mental state at an all time low and experiencing severe anxiety, caused from stress," one said.

"I witnessed 80 percent of the teachers be emotionally abused to the point where they are in tears while still teaching on the floor."

Another said "I noticed she would like to attack and insult teachers about their weight and appearance regularly and would do this about parents of the centre".

"I was witness to Pauline telling teachers they were stupid, yelling at them 'what is wrong with you' and 'if you don't like it leave'.

"She also would like to intimidate us with her lawyers and saying she had connections in the Ministry and teachers council and could take our jobs and certificates at any time."

The staff had tried to raise the alarm about the centre, but said they were never listened to.

One former Pitter Patter teacher said the process was to go the the manager first, which made it difficult.

"Considering these complaints a lot of the time were about the manager people did not bother or would go to the Ministry."

The former teachers confirmed MOE had visited the centre in 2018 to investigate parents' complaints that the sleep room was being used as a punishment.

"It is ridiculous and really disheartening that Pauline has been able to continue her business for many years with so many complaints and investigations being made against her centre to the Ministry of Education and yet she is warned by MOE visiting, allowing her to prepare and practise fraudulent behaviour to cover up complaints."

One former staff member said after one MOE complaint, Murphy tried to pick off the staff and work out who had done it.

"Everyone is probably going to say, 'why didn't you just speak up', or 'why didn't you do anything?' But Pauline is someone when you work for, she drums it into you right from the start that she has a lot of power and connections and she can end your career."

In statements to the MOE, the teachers detailed problems ranging from their own treatment to the parents and children's.

"Pauline's attitude is to bully, humiliate, belittle, emotionally abuse, play favourites amongst staff, and encouraging disharmony by doing so.

"Lying to parents and being misleading, threatening children to be put in the sleep room if their behaviour wasn't satisfactory to her."

In other complaints a parent detailed more than 14 incidents where her children were abused and mistreated, or she had witnessed teachers being bullied.

"Pauline smacked my child when they were approx. 2 years old for no reason - I was witness to this with my own eyes but she did not see that I saw her do this.

"I never said or did anything about this but I did report it to a teacher.

"I also watched Pauline drag a child by their arm immediately after the parent had left, the child had chippies in their mouth in the morning which Pauline didn't agree with so I watched her scrape the chippies out of the child's mouth with her fingers whilst the child was crying."

The same mother said her children would report back about the abuse.

"My child would often come home and tell us that Pauline had smacked certain children that day.

"They often came home from the centre incredibly hungry because the food they received was dismal especially when we paid for food as part of their enrolment."

Another mother said her child told her they would be smacked if they didn't sleep.

She said many parents and teachers had more complaints but were too afraid to speak up because of what she might do.

The investigation

Murphy has not responded to RNZ's repeated requests for comment.

The MOE said after the serious complaints it completed an on-site assessment on 17 November.

"At that time we identified that staff hadn't been safety checked as required by the Children's Act 2014 and so we immediately suspended its licence," the MOE said.

"The service provider has subsequently given us evidence that staff have been safety checked. While this met the conditions of the first licence suspension, our investigation is ongoing"

It said a second suspension was then put in place and later lifted when it was able to determine it was safe for children to return.

After a three-week closure, the centre was reopened and will be revisited by the MOE in January.

The investigation is continuing and the Teaching Council and Police are also involved.