British Columbia

Daycare left 5-year-old locked alone in vehicle for over an hour, says Kamloops mom

Helen Coombs is grateful to have her son safe and sound after she says he was forgotten for over an hour in a minivan at a Kamloops daycare centre.

Daycare said it has created a care plan to prevent similar incidents from happening again

Helen Coombs says her five-year-old son Tor was found sweating and crying after being forgotten in a vehicle by staff at a Kamloops daycare on May 6, 2022. (Submitted by Helen Coombs)

Helen Coombs is grateful to have her five-year-old son safe and sound after she says he was forgotten for over an hour in a minivan at a Kamloops daycare centre.

Coombs said her son, Tor, was picked up at Aberdeen Elementary School on Friday, May 6, 2022 and driven to Maple Tree Early Learning and Development Centre. School ends at 2:40 p.m and the centre is less than five kilometres away.

At around 4:15 p.m, Coombs says her husband went to pick up their son and four-year-old daughter Elsa from Maple Tree, and that's when staff realized they were missing a child. Coombs says her husband found their son sweating and crying in the vehicle and the family is relieved it was not worse.

"That's a pretty short period of time to lose a child," said Coombs, during an interview that aired Tuesday on Daybreak Kamloops.

On that day, Environment Canada registered the temperature in Kamloops as 17 C. Coombs said had it been hotter out, the consequences could have been dire.

The incident resulted in an investigation by the local health authority who found their concerns to be valid. Interior Health's current online records show Maple Tree has more substantiated complaints than any other Kamloops daycare.

A substantiated complaint is when a complaint is investigated and the provider is found to be failing to meet the regulatory standards.

'We are regretful'

Maple Tree says it reported the May 6 incident to Interior Health Licensing and Regulation which investigated the incident. Interior Health told CBC that, due to privacy concerns, it cannot confirm who reported the incident.

In an email statement about the incident, Maple Tree Early Learning and Development Centre said it happened because employees did not follow the facility's transportation plan and program policies and procedures. The company described the incident as "unfortunate."

The centre said it has created a care plan in light of the May 6 incident to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

The statement did not specify what those plans, policies and procedures are.

"We continue to work closely with our team to ensure our policies and procedures will be followed. We are regretful that this incident happened at our facility," concluded the centre's statement.

Helen Coombs says her son Tor and daughter Elsa will not be returning to Maple Tree Early Learning and Development Centre. (Submitted by Helen Coombs)

Coombs, after speaking to her husband and Tor, says her son fell asleep during the drive and woke up when kids were piling out of the van. He tried to follow them, but told his parents his bag got stuck in the van and the door closed before he could scramble out.

She says the van driver did a headcount, but another vehicle had pulled up at the same time with one child in it, and she says this is likely why no one noticed her son didn't get out of the vehicle.

"So he remained in the minivan because he couldn't open the sliding door. It's too heavy for him," said Coombs.

Not the first complaint

Interior Health's reporting website shows Maple Tree Early Learning and Development Centre, whose primary operator is listed on that website as Brian Fleming, has had five substantiated complaints since October 2020.

Details of these complaints show that, on more than one occasion, the daycare did not have adequate adult supervision on site.

There were also two instances of the daycare failing to pick up a child from school.

CBC reached out to Maple Tree for further comment about what measures the company took after the other four substantiated complaints. CBC also asked for details about the care plan created after May 6. Maple Tree has not followed up on that additional request.

LISTEN | Kamloops mom shares son's experience being left in minivan

A Kamloops mom has a warning for parents after her 5-year-old was forgotten in a vehicle by his daycare.

Safety suggestions

Coombs says the family did give the centre suggestions on how to make sure it doesn't happen again and they took those seriously. 

These included counting kids after they exit vehicles and not once they are inside the building. Another suggestion was to put all backpacks and bags in the back of the van so if one is left behind it indicates a kid has been too.

Coombs said staff is also considering changing the sliding door mechanism in its vehicle so kids can open it themselves.

Coombs says Tor seems unscathed, but the family will no longer be sending him, or his sister, to Maple Tree.

She is also reminding parents to look at inspection reports when they are choosing a daycare and to know the details about pick up and drop off protocols to make sure their children will be kept safe.

Coombs also suggests parents teach their children what they should do if they are trapped in a vehicle, such as removing heavy clothing, using the horn, and trying all the doors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bridgette Watson writes and produces for news and current affairs at CBC British Columbia. You can reach her at Bridgette.Watson@cbc.ca or @Beewatz on Twitter.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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