Education and care services have policies and procedures in place to protect children’s health, safety and well-being – not just at their service, but when youngsters are being transported under the care of their service.
Unfortunately, the recent death of a three-year-old who was left on a child care minibus, and the case of a 14-month-old forgotten on another service’s bus, illistrate that tragic mistakes can happen when children are being transported by their service.
No parent, care-giver or any person wants to see young lives being put in danger in this way, and to better manage transportation risks and help stop terrible errors from happening, the Education Council has introduced new requirements to strengthen arrangements when children are being transported under the care of their service.
These new requirements came into effect on 1 October 2020, so let’s see how children are being safeguarded as they travel from A to B.
What do the new child care transportation requirements entail?
The Education Council has agreed to new requirements under the Education and Care Services National Regulations, and these requirements for safe transportation of children apply to providers of education and care services that offer, or arrange, transportation of children as part of their service.
The new requirements cover journeys between home, care and other locations (whether on a regular or once-off basis), and they mean that services must:
- Conduct transport-specific risk assessments
- Get written authorisations from parents or other authorised people and
- Have transport-specific policies and procedures in place.
What risk assessments for transportation are now needed?
Before a service transports a child, they must undertake a risk assessment to identify and assess the risks that the transportation might pose to the youngster’s health, safety and well-being.
The service also needs to explain how the risks will be managed and minimised; and, at the very least, a transport risk assessment should consider:
- The proposed route and duration of the transport
- The proposed pick-up location and destination
- The means of transport
- Legal requirements around seatbelts and safety restraints
- Any water hazards
- How many adults and children are involved in the transportation
- The appropriate number of educators or other responsible adults needed to provide supervision in light of the risks, and whether any adults with special skills are required
- Whether any items should be readily available during the transportation, e.g. a mobile and list of emergency contacts
- The process for entering and exiting the service and the pick-up location or destination (as required), and
- Procedures for embarking and disembarking the transport, including how each child will be accounted for.
Risks should be assessed each time children are transported unless the transportation is defined as ‘regular transportation.’ This means that the transport is ‘substantially’ the same each time the child is transported (e.g. it follows the same route and has the same destination).
If the transportation is regular, then the risk assessment only needs to be done within the last 12 months.
What written authorisation does a service have to get before transporting a child?
A parent (or another person authorised in the child’s enrolment record) must give written authorisation for the child to be transported.
The authorisation is only needed once a year if it relates to regular transportation, and the written authorisation must include:
- The child’s name
- The reason they’re being transported
- A description of when the child will be transported (for regular transportation) or the date they’ll be transported (for other transportation)
- A description of the proposed pick-up location and destination
- The means of transport
- The period of time when the child will be transported
- The expected number of children likely to be transported, plus the anticipated number of staff and any other adults who’ll be accompanying and supervising them during the trip
- Any legal requirements for seatbelts or safety restraints
- Confirmation that a risk assessment has been prepared and is available at the service, and
- Confirmation that written policies and procedures for transporting children are also available at the service.
What transportation-related policies and procedures do services need?
If a service is going to be transporting children, then they must have transportation policies and procedures that address all the same requirements for the above risk assessments and written authorisations for transporting children.
What requirements are there around child care excursions?
The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) says, ‘The new requirements are mainly about transport of children other than as part of an excursion,’ but there are some small changes around risk assessments and written authorisations when children are being transported for an excursion:
- A risk assessment for an excursion must now also consider the means of transport, requirements around seatbelts or safety restraints, the process for entering and exiting premises/locations, and embarkation/disembarkation procedures.
- Written authorisations for excursions must now also say whether the authorisation is for a ‘regular outing’ or not. If the child’s excursion is a regular outing (e.g. it’s a substantially similar walk, drive or trip to and from a destination), then the authorisation has to describe when the child will go on it. And if the excursion is a non-regular outing, the authorisation must include the date the child is being transported. The means of transport and laws around seatbelts or safety restraints also have to be covered.
When is a service not responsible for the transportation of a child?
The new requirements cover services when they offer, or arrange, transportation of children in their care, but transport is not part of an education and care service when:
- Private transport is offered by parents or carers who aren’t engaged by/registered with the service
- Transport is offered by another entity, e.g. when a bus is provided by a school
- A disability service picks up the child and transports them to school or to an activity or
- The service is providing transport in another capacity, e.g. when a government department runs an early learning service and school and offers a school bus to transport all the children.
At the end of the day, there is some degree of risk any time a child is transported, but these new requirements go a long way to ensuring that little Australians are cared for when they’re out and about, on the road or idling by the kerb.
Vigilance is essential on the part of care-givers, and these transport-specific requirements help to ensure that short trips, regular routes, special excursions and other journeys lead to enriching experiences, rather than regrettable ones.