One child a month left on a bus across Australia over the past five years | Australia news

At least 68 children have been left on buses in Australia in the past five years – a rate of more than one a month.

Three-year-old Nevaeh Austin was treated in intensive care earlier this month after being found unconscious on a bus outside her Queensland childcare center. She had been on the bus alone for six hours in temperatures over 30C.

While the case generated headlines around Australia, a lawyer acting for the families of children found on buses said it was “happening more than people would believe or understand”.

On Thursday, a Perth childcare provider was fined $27,000 after a five-year-old boy was upset, hot, and sweaty on a locked bus for more than two hours.

Kids Active Southern River was found by the state administrative tribunal to have breached education and care services laws about the incident on the way back from an excursion in September 2021.

Staff members did not check the bus after the children got off. A head count was conducted, but it was not recognized at that point that a child was unaccounted for.

Elaine Penno is suing her son’s childcare center after a driver allegedly locked him inside a bus in Coffs Harbour when he was eight last January.

Penno alleges the bus driver switched off and departed the vehicle after forgetting to drop her son Rowan home from vacation care in the afternoon.

Queensland has reported 41 occasions of children left on buses over the past five years – the highest in the country, but it has happened in every state and territory. Photograph: Louise Beaumont/Getty Images

She said the eight-year-old walked home alongside a busy main road after setting himself free by pressing the emergency release button.

“People say, why didn’t your child speak up? But why should he have to speak up when they’re supposed to protect him and get him where he’s supposed to go?” Penno said.


“[When the bus stopped], he thought they must have been picking up [someone]. He wasn’t aware.”

Shine Lawyers is representing Penno and three other families who say their children have been left on buses by childcare services in NSW and Queensland.

“It’s a real issue that is … happening more than people would believe or understand,” Lisa Flynn, chief legal officer at Shine Lawyers, said.

“The fact that we’re one law firm and there are at least four current cases involving these instances, I think, is very concerning.”

Flynn said more needs to be done to keep children safe. “In some states, there are policies, and there have been campaigns … but we need to ensure organizations are attracting the right people that are properly trained,” she said.

“There needs to be tighter regulation, so the very important job of ensuring the safety of children is given the prominence and importance that desperately needs.”

After Nevaeh Austin was admitted to the hospital, the then acting federal education minister, Stuart Robert, wrote to state and territory counterparts to request they immediately change rules to ensure a second educator, other than the bus driver, is present when children are getting on and off vehicles used by childcare centers.

“This incident is unacceptable and unfortunately not the first of its kind. It can never happen again,” he wrote.

“Your urgent consideration of arrangements … about transport safety is appreciated given these tragic circumstances.”

In February 2020, three-year-old Maliq (“Meeky”) Nicholas Floyd Namok-Malamoo died after being left in a parked bus outside a school in Cairns. Driver Michael Glenn Lewis pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in jail in 2021, while Goodstart Early Learning was fined $71,000 over the incident.

In the aftermath, Queensland launched a Look Before You Lock campaign to halt the state’s relatively high number of incidents.

Queensland has reported 41 children being left on buses over the past five years – the highest number in the country. Numbers fell from 17 in 2019 to three last year, although there have already been three this year.

Meanwhile, Western Australia has reported nine cases since 2017, NSW six, Tasmania four, Victoria four, and South Australia two. The Northern and Australian Capital Territories said one point each over the past five years.

Maaike Stolte said her son Liam had left on a van in Ipswich outside his after-school care center three years ago. She said when staff at the center realized her seven-year-old was missing, they returned to the truck to find him fast asleep.

“It was only 10 minutes, so he was fine, just a bit hot and sweaty,” Stolte said. “But it makes me sick thinking about what could have happened.”

Stolte said the center was apologetic and brought changes, such as extra staff and double checks. “But with the recent incident [of Neveah Austin], it’s brought back memories and made me think maybe I was too laidback,” she said.

Anne Freeman, a former school and childcare bus driver of 15 years, said it was quite common for young children to fall asleep.

“When I drove, I’d always make sure I’d walk up and down the bus, collect rubbish, and make sure there’s no one left on,” Freeman said.

“For daycare, we would mark children off the roll when they got on and off the bus.”

Freeman said further driver training and signage could help keep children safe.

“You lock up the bus at 9 am and come back at 3 pm, so if you’re unaware, it could be six hours that they’re stuck on the bus … It’s pretty disturbing,” she said.

Flynn says many of her clients have suffered psychological distress due to learning about what happened to their children.

“It’s extremely traumatic for many of the parents … where if their child had been left [on the bus] any longer, the consequence could have been the death of their child,” she said.

“It is an extremely important safety issue and needs to be highlighted to ensure that there is the proper level of accountability for organizations entrusted with the care of children.”

Guardian Australia has contacted all daycare centers involved but has not received a response.

Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.