Creche manager is charged with 'wilful neglect'
A creche manager has denied the wilful neglect of two young children who went missing and were found near a stream.
Joanna Witkowska (34), a manager at the Giraffe creche in Stepaside, Dublin, had told gardai that the toddlers, a boy and a girl, had only been missing for "three or four minutes" and had been found directly outside the creche.
But CCTV footage seized by officers revealed the children were missing for 15 minutes before staff became aware one of them, the boy, was gone.
They only became aware that there were two missing children when both were found near a stream 170 metres from the creche. Polish-born Ms Witkowska, with an address at Wingfield Apartments in Stepaside, Dublin, denies the wilful neglect of the children at the creche on July 23 last year.
The charge was brought under Section 246 (1) and (2) of the Children Act 2001. It carries a penalty of a fine of up to €1,900 and/or up to a year in prison.
Dun Laoghaire District Court heard gardai went to the creche after local woman Karen Dunne made a 999 call after coming across the two children on an open green area with a stream running through it at the rear of the Belarmine Hall apartments.
Gardai were assured by Ms Witkowska and another manager that the children had only been gone a matter of minutes.
But they were flagged down by Ms Dunne, who showed them where she encountered the children and told officers she had stayed with them for ten minutes before creche workers came on the scene.
Garda Mandy Lowe told the court she and a colleague went back to the creche and put this to the two managers. The garda said the managers "didn't confirm or deny" Ms Dunne's account.
Judge Hugh O'Donnell was told a gate was opened by Ms Witkowska at 10.52am to allow a farmer, Mary Ward, bring some animals through the playground to show the children.
The footage showed the boy and girl playing near a toy train until 11.15am when they wandered out of the playground.
Staff began to search for the boy 15 minutes later and one of the care workers appeared to be visibly upset. Ms Witkowska was seen running through the playground at 11.33am. The children finally returned to the play area at 11.38am.
Defence solicitor Dara Robinson denied his client had neglected the children. He said the incident was "accidental", but did not constitute neglect.
Mr Robinson said there was an issue as to whether his client should have been charged at all as she had no direct childcare responsibilities and the children had walked "under the noses" of two other staff members as they went towards the gate.
He adjourned the hearing until Friday. Earlier, the court heard the same creche had been charged with allowing corporal punishment to take place on its premises.
The charges were lodged by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and follow the broadcast in May of last year of the RTE Prime Time investigation.