When Sarah William’s* three-year-son came home from day care distraught one night last year, she immediately feared the worst, but even that couldn’t prepare her for what her son was about to tell her.
Though he was very distressed, the little boy eventually confessed he feared his “carer”, the boss of the family day care he attended in a town in northern NSW, hated him.
“Zoe* doesn’t like me mum,” he said, fighting back tears. When Sarah pressed him on why he would think that, her son told her that Zoe had locked him and another boy in an empty bedroom by themselves for over an hour.
Speaking through quivering lips, the little boy revealed that when he told Zoe that he didn’t want to take a nap (he never did, as was the norm with wily three-year-old boys), she marched him over to her empty bedroom, locked him inside – and left him there.
“My son is not the type to sit down quietly in ‘time out’,” Sarah insisted, “He will scream ‘Let me out! Let me out!’ I’m sure that he did.”
But that wasn’t the worst of the boy’s revelations. He also claimed Zoe had struck him on one occasion.
Horrified, Sarah immediately made the decision to pull her son out of the day care and keep him at home with her – a decision made difficult by the fact that Sarah lived on the same street, just a couple of doors down, from the day care itself.
But despite the awkwardness, Sarah couldn’t risk letting him stay there.
“If she did that because my son wouldn’t take a nap,” Sarah mused, “What else could she have done? God knows. God knows what she could have done.”
Not wanting to rock the boat in her small town and certainly not wanting to cause a scene with Zoe, Sarah quietly took the woman aside and asked if her son’s allegations were true.
“She said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” Sarah said, and then she loudly asked for an unpaid fee of $26.
Sarah thought about reporting Zoe, but eventually decided not to go through with it. Zoe was a prominent member of the community and felt too intimidated to speak up.
“I was made to feel like I couldn’t,” Sarah confessed, “I wanted to.”
For Sarah, the problem resolved itself – if not a bit inconveniently. A few months later, her house flooded and Sarah made the move to a nearby town, and enrolled her son in a “brilliant” day care that she has been very happy with.
But after reading about a little boy from Tweed Heads who died in family day care last year, Sarah has decided to voice her concerns to save other children from neglect and abuse.
“I’m one of those people who always stands up,” said the young mother, “And I feel like now is the right time to stand up.”
Clarifying herself, Sarah insisted that she wasn’t condemning the entire establishment of family day cares, but that parents should be “careful”.
“I believe that all parents should wait until their children can talk,” said Sarah, “If I hadn’t waited, if I put him in at one [year-old] and that had have happened, I would have had no clue, because he would not have been able to tell me.”
“Listen to your children and trust your gut,” Sarah urged, “I know a lot of people discredit their gut [feeling]. You have to be aware of the realities of the world, and unfortunately, not everyone is suited to caring for children. A lot of them are doing it for the wrong reasons. Just listen to the children.”
*Names have been changed.