The province is probing a Winnipeg preschool after a mother reported her three-year-old son was left alone outside last week.
Teeghan Butler filed a complaint about the privately run St. James Early Learning Program preschool after she arrived to pick up her son last Friday and found him in front of the building.
"He was just standing there, outside the school, all by himself," Butler said.
The preschool, which is licensed by the province, is under review, a provincial spokesperson confirmed.
"After speaking with the parent who filed the complaint and the owner/operator of the child-care facility, a decision was made to immediately suspend all field trips and outings away from the facility until further notice. The owner/operator was advised of this action early on Monday afternoon," the provincial spokesperson stated.
"There is an ongoing and active review of this matter due to the potential substantial concerns regarding safety practices that resulted in this situation. Further actions may be taken based on the review’s findings."
Penalties can range from conditions being placed on the child-care licence to the licence being suspended or revoked.
Butler said she was late on Nov. 19 to pick up her son from the preschool program he'd attended for almost two years. She texted the teacher who runs the program to let her know she would be late, but when she arrived, the teacher and all of the other kids and parents were gone.
Butler said she arrived 20 minutes after preschool ended, so she estimates her son could have been left out in the cold for 20 minutes. When she later contacted the preschool, Butler said the teacher offered different explanations for what happened.
"At first, she said she didn't know I was going to be late."
Butler said the teacher then said she saw Butler's son run toward the parking lot at pick-up time and assumed his mother was there to get him.
"She admits she just assumed that he was with me."
The Free Press left several messages for the teacher, but she didn't reply. The nursery school has been licenced with the province since 2018 and this is the first formal complaint the province has received about it, a provincial spokesperson said.
Butler pulled her son out of preschool and filed a complaint with the province. She attempted to file a police report, but was told no criminal action had occurred.
"He's pretty traumatized by what happened," she said of her three-year-old son.
"He just knows that he was scared and he was left alone."
Manitoba Child Care Association executive director Jodie Kehl said Butler did the right thing by reporting the incident. A program review by the child-care operator and the province should look at whether there were gaps in policy that can be improved so that this never happens again.
"Families need to be vigilant in elevating these really serious concerns," Kehl said.
"Human error can happen, I suppose, but under the current licensing regulations... it says every licensee shall ensure that children attending the child-care centre are supervised at all times."
Incidents of children being left alone or unsupervised at child-care programs have triggered licensing orders under the provincial Community Child Care Standards Act multiple times in Manitoba, most recently on three occasions at different day cares in 2018 that were each subject to corrective conditions placed on their licences.
Child safety should always come first, Butler said. She said she wanted to speak out about the incident to better inform parents and child-care providers.
"It makes me feel sick to think that I left my son in the care of a person who I pay to be responsible for my child and prioritize his safety," she said.
"It's horrifying to know that it was just so easily done. It's really scary, and this kind of thing should never happen when you put your child with someone and you trust them to take care of them."
Butler said she doesn't think the operator should be allowed to continue running a preschool.
"To endanger a child, whether it's intentional or not, I don't think someone like that should be able to work with children, because that could have easily been a life or death situation for my child. That could have been the last time I ever saw my child, so I don't think mistakes like these should be taken lightly."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.