What Happened?

On November 9th, 2015 Lachlan was dropped off at his family day care in Carramar like any other unremarkable morning. Just over 1 hour later we received a call. Lachlan had been left alone and drowned in the pool while unsupervised.

He would never recover. 

But how did we get here?

At 4.5 months old, Lachlan started having 'play dates' a couple of times per week with Nan and Poppa while Mum returned to part time work. While Lachlan adored this time with his grandparents at around 18 months old it was decided that in conjunction with his various therapies, he needed more time with kids his own age to further motivate, learn and grow with. We enrolled in a fabulous day care centre where he was soon up and walking. However, our poor little man just wasn't able to withstand the onslaught of viruses that seem to thrive in mainstream day care. In a 3 month period Lachlan had 6 ear infections, conjunctivitis, croup and a throat infection. We had no choice but to seek out alternative care. 

This brought us to the doorstep of family day care. Our first service closed as the carer took time to have her second baby. The second service was suited to Lachlan’s needs for a short time before he seemingly became overwhelmed and overstimulated in the environment which included after school care also, then he began acting out with the carers young son. Lastly we found Karla’s Family Day Care. A service that limited itself to children 0-4 years with no more than 4 children at any one time. The carer had nearly 2 decades of experience in child care, as well as first aid and certifications in early learning. We had reservations about a pool being on the premises to which she assured us that children would be supervised at all times and that she was extremely vigilant when the kids were outside. "1 outside, all outside; 1 inside, all inside" were the exact words. Lachlan warmed to the carer and the other children immediately and so we felt reassured we had made the right choice for his care.

Lachlan was sick less often, his language skills were improving and his confidence began to beam from him. He was engaged and content in his care, he was thriving.

Safety was something I had raised previously with the front door not being locked as Lachlan could operate doors by this stage. Despite my concerns we still found the front door unsecured on several more occassions after the initial discussion about children being able to escape to the front yard or into traffic or heaven forbid an intruder entering the home undetected. In hindsight our instincts were sounding the alarm here that perhaps safety wasn't being taken as seriously as it should have been.

What happened?

On Monday, 9th November 2015 I dropped Lachlan off at Karla’s Family Day Care at approximately 8.30am. He rushed through the front door, eager to start his day while I put his bag away and signed him in. When I entered the main area he was happily playing dinosaurs on the little table which had been set up with dirt, bark and leaves. 2 other children were present that day, a 2 year old girl and 11 month old boy. I had a brief conversation with Karla then hugged Lachlan from behind and gave him a big kiss goodbye. I headed off to run errands for the day with a few things left to do for his 3rd birthday and party later in the week. 
 
At 10.30am I received a call from Karla saying there had been an accident. She told me he’d fallen in the pool, that she couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes, that Dakota didn’t want to play outside and the baby was crying, that he vomitted twice but wouldn’t answer me when I kept asking if he was breathing. I left my appointment and halfway there got another call saying the ambulance had taken him to hospital so I turned around and went back. I remember getting to the parking lot and the boom gate not opening because it was full. 2 cars had parked me in and I couldn’t back out. I got out and screamed at the driver behind to let me out, that my son had drowned. Then they pointed at someone leaving so I tried again. I walked into the emergency room shaking and told the lady at the window “my son drowned” and she showed me through to another lady who was waiting behind the ER doors. She did her best to prepare me for what came next but there were no words for what we would experience that day.

I had expected to walk into the hospital room to Lachlan crying and calling for me while nursing staff try to console him. The reality was so much more shocking. People everywhere. Beyond the crowd was a little body lying lifeless on the hospital bed while nurses worked feverishly around him. They were breathing for him while they worked and worked to get his heart started again. My blood ran cold as I sat on a chair in the corner of the room watching helplessly. I remember the overwhelming feeling of wanting to scoop him up in my arms as if that is all he really needed. That is what I needed.

I don’t know how long I was there before the doctor came over. He told me that it had been over an hour, Lachlan wasn’t breathing on his own and his heart hadn’t started again. There was little to no chance of bringing him back and it was likely that he had passed before he got there. I howled and cried and begged for them to do something ... and then, his heart started beating on its own. ”That’s good right? That’s something right? Is there hope!?” I exclaimed. There was a long pause. The lady with me was cautious when she told me it was something but it didn’t mean he would wake up. It didn’t matter. That was all I needed.

PMH was the calm in the storm. The staff were amazing and brave. Family came and went. Lachlan was surrounded by those who loved him every second of the day and through the night. Things stopped for a moment in time as we waited and watched our son, looking for any sign of brain activity. Unfortunately, no sign ever came.

At 6.15pm on November 10th, 2015 Lachlan was pronounced dead. He was unplugged from the numerous tubes and placed in our arms for our first cuddle in 2 days. Luke and I held him until well after his heart had stopped.
 
In the days, weeks, months to come his presence and his absence were overwhelming. Compounded by the fact that no one could tell us what happened to our baby or when we might know. For a while, every time I closed my eyes I would see his little face. I would dream of him reaching out for me and me plunging my hand into that cold water and pulling him out by the arm. Other times I would wake to noises thinking he needed me only to be confronted by an ache in my heart and a tear-soaked pillow.
 

Is this family day care still operating?

No, it shut down the day of the accident.

Did anything happen to the carer?

She was prosecuted, fined and prohibited from working with children.

Did anything happen to Communicare (the Approved Provider)? 

No.

What exactly is an Approved Provider? 

An Approved Provider is responsible for registering family day care services to operate as well as ensuring the safety and educational standards meet the government requirements.

So what went wrong?

Technically the result of the inquest was an open finding as it cannot be determined whether a pool gate was not latched properly or whether he used the large pot plant located against the fence to climb over. 

What we do know;

  • There was a pool on the premises.
  • Lachlan was left unsupervised outside.
  • The amount of time lapsed is unknown.
  • A toddler can lose consciousness within 30 seconds.
  • A toddler can receive irreversible brain damage if submersed for 2 - 4 minutes.
  • Pot plants against the fence were an issue when Karla applied to be registered through Communicare. Communicare had her move them initially to meet compliance.
  • Communicare are only required to conduct 1 compliance visit per year to assess the physical safety of the environment for children.
  • The last time the area of the accident was mentioned in a report was June 2015, 5 months before the accident.
  • The pot plant in question had been in that position long enough to have roots growing through it into the ground.
  • Karla could not find her mobile to call an ambulance or Lachlan's family immediately after the accident.
  • Karla had to stop CPR and leave the house to alert neighbours to call for help. 
  • It is unknown where the other children were at this time.

Further details from the inquest into Lachlan's death can be found here.

Victim Impact Statement to the court for Karla's prosecution in 2016.