Camp Australia child care
Alex Ferguson will never forget the day she took a phone call from her son’s after school care to say that Jacson, who has Down syndrome and autism, had gone missing.
“I lost it. I pretty much died inside, ” Alex told Kidspot. “So much bad stuff could have happened to him. He could have been hit by a car. He could have walked into a absolutely anyone’s house. I’m too scared to ever use after care services again.”
It was October 27 last year when Alex left her son at Cloverdale Public School in Perth, knowing he’d be at his regular after school care service, Camp Australia, when the bell rang, something he did five days a week while she and her partner, Nathan, both worked.
Jacson is a lively and active little boy - he loves playing with his dogs, riding his bike and being a gorgeous big brother to his two-year-old sister Chloe. But he’s also non-verbal and has a tendency to wander away if not closely supervised.
Alex had assumed that because Camp Australia had agreed to look after Jacson, as well as a number of other special needs kids who went to were in the separate Education Support stream at Cloverdale, that they were adequately staffed and properly trained to look after her little boy.
But the terrifying incident in October has changed her mind.
Jacson wandered away and no one noticed
As far as Alex understands it, Jacson had been with one of the two carers looking after the children as she was making afternoon tea in a separate kitchen.
When Jacson went outside, the first carer assumed he would return to the building with the other carer and other children.
In fact, he found his way outside the school grounds, crossed a busy road and ended up in a stranger’s backyard, a woman who owned a large dog.
Back at school, Jacson’s carers, and his teacher, had realised he was missing. They were looking everywhere for him. They rang Alex’s mobile phone and left a message but Alex didn’t realise it was urgent.
“They just said to ring when I could and I assumed it was about overdue fees or something, ” Alex says. “I had no idea about what was happening to Jacson.”
“I think he has a guardian angel, ” says Alex of her son Jacson, here with his sister Chloe. Source: supplied
NSW government cracks down on Camp Australia
Camp Australia, which is Australia’s largest after-school provider and cares for over 100, 000 children every week, is back in the news today after the NSW government has banned it from expanding its business in NSW because of safety breaches exactly like the one that happened to Jacson.
A NSW education department spokesperson told The Daily Telegraph “Camp Australia is not eligible to tender as they do not meet the quality requirements.”
Jacson isn’t the only child who’s wandered away while in the supposed care of the company. On 29 July this year, a five-year-old child left the Camp Australia after care at Coogee Primary School in WA without any carers noticing.
And another child left without an educator or other authorised adult from Richmond Primary School, WA, in similar circumstances in 2015. After Jacson’s incident the company was fined $30, 000 for failing in their duty of care.
Jascon wandered into elderly lady’s house
Fortunately, Jacson wandered into the home of an elderly lady who had experience with adults with Down syndrome. She was initially frightened when she saw a strange boy in her yard, thinking perhaps he was being used as a lure to make her leave her house so she could be robbed or assaulted. But after a while she cautiously approached Jacson, and recognising his school uniform, phoned the school.
The worst part for Alex is that she has no idea what happened to Jacson in that 50 minutes that he was gone. Because he’s non-verbal, he can’t tell his mum and dad exactly where he went or who he met.
“He’s still in nappies, and after the incident I begged his carers and teachers to look out for any behavioural changes when his nappy is changed, ” Alex says, in case something happened to him during the time he was lost that Jacson was unable to describe.
Thankfully, Jacson seems to be his old self, and unaware of the seriousness of what happened to him.
Jacson with his mum Alex and baby sister Chloe.
“I don’t think two carers is adequate”
But Alex wants to make sure that other parents don’t go through what she’s been through, and that children like Jacson are kept safe when they’re in the care of people supposed to be looking after them.
“I don’t blame the carers [at Camp Australia] themselves, ” she says. “They look after our kids while we are out supporting our families. I can’t thank them enough for that. But I think they need more staff and more support. Since it happened I have asked the company about staff ratios and they keep saying it’s adequate. But I don’t think two carers is adequate when there are special needs kids too.”
“I wouldn’t have cared if they admitted they didn’t have the right amount of staff so we’d have to wait until they found someone. I wouldn’t have put Jacson in. I wouldn’t have minded waiting a month or two.”
“They should be qualified to look after our special needs kids”
Alex says other parents must not be afraid to ask questions before letting their children attend a Camp Australia after school program, or any other after school program for that matter.
“I just thought that if they’re at our school and they know that there’s an ed support centre there, they should be qualified to look after our special needs kids, ” she says. “I should have asked those questions - how many carers, how many students, what would you do if ‘this’ or this’ happened?”
And she’s pleased that NSW has decided to restrict the company’s expansion until it can lift its game. “I think it’s great, ” she says. “They need to be monitored carefully.”
“He could have ended up anywhere. It’s terrifying to think about”
As for Jacson, Alex is just pleased her little boy is safe and sound.
“I think he has a guardian angel watching over him that he ended up in the house he did, with the lovely lady who looked after him, ” she says.