Teacher censured after accidentally locking 4yo in van for hours

Via Lam-Sam-Tai has been censured after accidentally leaving a child in a van for several hours.
An early childhood teacher has been censured after accidentally leaving a child in a van for several hours. Photo credit: Getty

An early childhood teacher has been censured after she accidentally locked a four-year-old in a van for several hours.

As part of her job at an undisclosed childcare centre, Via Lam-Sam-Tai was responsible for taking four children home on the afternoon of September 2, 2016. She was to drive them home in a van and complete a form recording that each child had been dropped off, which she did not complete.

Believing she had delivered all four children, she drove to her own home and parked the van in her driveway. She then locked the van and left to go to a funeral, forgetting that one child was still in the van.

When the four-year-old girl did not return home, her parents reported her missing. Police were unable to reach Ms Lam-Sam-Tai because her phone was switched off.

Police found the child in the van in Ms Lam-Sam-Tai's driveway at 8pm, still strapped into her car seat. She had been in the van for several hours, and was reportedly upset but unharmed and "not traumatised".

Ms Lam-Sam-Tai was informed by police about what had happened at about 9:15pm. She then visited the family of the forgotten child to see if the girl was all right, and to apologise for what she called a "horrible mistake". 

The New Zealand Disciplinary Tribunal said Ms Lam-Sam-Tai's actions constituted serious misconduct, and that "there could have been tragic consequences".

However, the tribunal accepted that Ms Lam-Sam-Tai immediately took responsibility for her actions, and that she did not seem to pose a continuing danger to the public.

They chose to give her the "least severe penalty consistent with the circumstances of the case" by censuring her. She will have to alert any prospective employer to her censuring for the next two years, and has been demoted at the childcare centre she works at.

In 2015, a Whanganui woman pleaded guilty to manslaughter after forgetting her 16-month-old son was in the backseat of her car.

He died from heat stroke and dehydration after spending several hours in the car on a summer day with a high of 26degC.