18 Feb 2021

Education Ministry finds 33 breaches at Pitter Patter childcare centre in Feilding

4:37 pm on 18 February 2021

Dirty bedding and rooms, bad food, a lack of fresh air and piping hot taps within reach of toddlers.

Pitter Patter Education Centre in Feilding.

The Pitter Patter centre in Feilding has until 22 February to ensure there is a first aid kit that complies with regulations. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

These are just some of the official findings of a Feilding childcare centre - not connected to Auckland child care centres with the same name - which is being investigated and its owner banned from the premises.

The Ministry of Education has now done a full license assessment on the Pitter Patter Education Centre and has found 33 breaches.

The centre must now meet those conditions which include hygienic food storage and preparation safety, having a compliant first aid kit and making sure teacher ratios are met.

The Ministry of Education shut Pitter Patter down for three weeks in November after former teachers and parents complained that children at the centre were being mistreated.

It was then when its owner and manager, Pauline Murphy, was suspended from contact with children or being at the centre during opening hours.

She had been accused of locking toddlers in the sleep room as punishment, pinching children and yanking their wrists so hard staff worried they would be dislocated.

As part of the ongoing investigation into Murphy, the ministry conducted what is called a 'full license assessment' to ensure the centre was meeting all its regulations.

It found that 33 of the licensing criteria were not being adhered to - eight of which must be remedied by next week, 22 February.

The centre has been told to ensure parts of the building used by children had ventilation allowing fresh air to circulate and that rooms were kept above 16C.

Pitter Patter also has until 22 February to ensure there is a first aid kit that complies with regulations and apply mattress protectors to beds to prevent them from being soiled.

One former teacher who had complained said she was glad the ministry was finally taking action, but she did not have much faith in the system which should have picked up on these problems a long time ago.

"It is good to see the ministry has been able to find some of the breaches we have told them about.

"Seeing all these breaches I struggle to understand how the centre can still be operating when other centres have been shut down for less."

She said the centre would meet the regulations to keep the ministry happy but would revert once it was ticked off.

The woman said the centre should be closed down and was not a safe place for children or teachers.

Another former employee agreed.

"It's great to see ministry is now taking note of complaints that have come forward and doing a more thorough investigation however there still seems to many areas missing from the breaches that have been identified.

"My concern is that Pauline will continue to change areas for the purpose of the audit but things will go back to the way they used to be.

"These breaches have been going on [for] years and I ask how she has gotten away with it."

Of the 33 breaches, many related to food preparation and hygiene.

The ministry's assessment found Pitter Patter had not been proving a safe and clean place for children to eat; food was not stored, prepared or served hygienically; and the food provided was not meeting nutritional needs of the children.

It has until 8 March to ensure the "food is of a sufficient variety, quantity and quality to meet the nutritional and developmental needs of each child".

One former staff member said the minimal food Pitter Patter provided was also rationed.

She said children were given only Marmite sandwiches for days on end - which they were made to eat outside regardless of the weather because Murphy did not want a mess inside.

In a letter last week the ministry told parents it had asked for help from a public health protection officer in regards to children's health and safety and food concerns.

The assessment also found the centre was not meeting its adult-to-child ratios, and it was including the adult whose sole job was to cook and serve food in those ratios.

A former employee said one child had broken their arm when a member of staff was left alone with 50 children to look after because the manager had understaffed and wanted to have a meeting.

The centre was also pulled up for giving children medicine without the parents' permission.

Former teachers said Murphy would treat children for headlice by standing them over a sink and pouring disinfectant over their heads.

In many of the complaints to the ministry, Murphy was also accused of doctoring records and paperwork.

"Pauline spent many weeks putting things in place for ERO reviews but quickly stopped once being 'ticked off'."

The teacher said "from time to time children were kept on the roll for up to 3 months after they had officially left. Implying that records were being falsified to show attendance from time to time to keep the child on the roll."

The ministry found various breaches surrounding documentation and record-keeping specifically around enrolment, food and attendance.

The Ministry of Education and a separate Teaching Council investigation are continuing.

Murphy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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