An intoxicated child is the last thing any parent expects to see at a Ministry of Education licensed and funded quality early childhood centre. Even worse is when the teachers and management also fail in their basic duty of care by not immediately informing the parents of the child affected and getting medical help.

A mum reported to the Southland Times newspaper that this happened on Monday at the Woodhouse Early Learning Centre.   

She arrived at the centre at 5.30pm to pick up her 4-year-old daughter and noticed that there was something seriously wrong with her.

She was told her girl was just acting silly.  But the mother did not believe this.

“If you looked into her eyes she clearly wasn't there, she was stumbling and she smashed her head on the boot of my car and it didn't faze her”.

She rushed her daughter to hospital and her daughter was found to have a blood alcohol level of 188mg.

On the hospital’s request the mum phoned the centre to find out how long her daughter had been intoxicated and was told her ‘silly’ behaviour was noticed by the teachers at 4.30pm.

The centre’s manager has since suggested to the Southland Times that the girl may have consumed some of the alcohol-based hand sanitizer they have at the centre.

With Christmas and holidays coming up, this is a time of year when there is a greater likelihood of alcohol, such as wine and spirits, being brought into workplaces. 

The Ministry of Education is reported to be investigating how the girl became ‘drunk’.  But unless the girl recalls and is able to name the substance she consumed the truth may never be known.

The parent’s rights

  • To have their child receive supervision at all times when in the care of an early childhood centre – a child under 5 years of age is only safe if within sight of a responsible adult at all times.
  • To be informed immediately if the child has consumed a harmful substance or is exhibiting out-of-character behaviour; and if the parent cannot be reached then the centre should contact the person named by the parent as the emergency contact on the child’s enrolment form.
  • To lay a complaint with the centre owner and management and be listened to.
  • To complain to the Ministry of Education in regard to the centre breaching licensing regulations, to be listened to and to have the complaint adequately investigated and addressed. (Read more:
  • To complain and request compensation under the Consumer Guarantees Act. Under this Act there is a guarantee that services will be delivered with reasonable skill and care. (Read more:


The child’s rights

  • To be kept safe from harm.
  • To experience care that is of the highest standard.
  • To have continuous, meaningful and caring relationships with the adults responsible for them in the childcare/early education programme that includes supportive relations with parents. (Read more:


Legal compliance requirements under the Education (Early Childhood) Regulations and Criteria

  1. The centre must take all practicable steps to eliminate, isolate, or minimise harm to children.
  2. The centre must have a health and safety hazard identification and management system, and regular checks for hazards must be carried out.  Hazards include cleaning agents, medicines, and poisons including alcohol-based poisons. 
  3. The centre must take all practicable steps to get immediate medical assistance for badly hurt or seriously ill children and parents must be notified.
  4. The centre must have a First Aid kit that includes the National Poisons centre phone number 0800 Poison. READ MORE:


Some reactions

This is terrible even if it was the hand sanitizer they should have called the parents immediately. I had thought that alcohol based sanitizer would be banned from ECE centres. And, where was the supervision that she was able to drink that much that she got drunk because of it? Hopefully this will be thoroughly investigated so that the parents can be reassured that this will never happen again.

Its difficult to comment when we don't know all the facts from all parties. I believe that it only takes one teaspoon of this sanitizer to create this result, so maybe this is a product that should at least be locked away with other hazardous substances. As far as supervision goes, the ratios of 1:10 are way too high. If a mother has ten children to look after she would get subsidised help, yet Teachers are supposed to work miracles. I think these sanitisers should be locked away, and not used when children are around. It will be interesting to know the full story here.

Once again, ratios are far too high for one person - we never run with only one adult - even if there is only one child - always two adults on duty. We have hand sanitizer available for the children to use on the odd occasion, but it is alcohol free.