The family of a two-year-old boy who drowned at a Perth family day care centre wants pools banned at day care centres across Western Australia.
Lachlan Mitchell died in Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) on the evening of November 10, 2015 — two days before his third birthday — after being found unconscious in a pool the day before.
A coronial inquest is investigating how he came to be in the pool, and how regulations for pools in family day care can be improved.
Lachlan’s mother, Melanie Mitchell, had dropped him off at the family day care centre in the Carramar home of Karla Zablah at 8:15am on November 9, 2015.
The coronial court was told the below-ground pool in Ms Zablah’s backyard had been deemed compliant by Surf Life Saving WA on behalf of the City of Wanneroo.
Ms Zablah had three children under her care that day, including an 11-month-old boy.
She had taken the 11-month-old inside to have a nap and was outside with Lachlan but returned inside to take care of the infant when he started crying.
The counsel assisting the coroner said Ms Zablah left Lachlan outside alone for seven minutes and when she came back out she found him floating face down in the pool.
The inquest was told she immediately took him out and started CPR, but could not find her phone — and so she went to her neighbours, who called an ambulance.
Lachlan was taken initially to Joondalup Health Campus and then to PMH, where he died the next day.
The court was told it was not clear if the boy had climbed pot plants to enter the pool area or if the gate had been firmly closed.
Death ‘entirely preventable’, lawyer says
The lawyer representing the Mitchell family, John Hammond, told the inquest they had several concerns.
“Lachlan died as a result of an event which we say was entirely preventable,” Mr Hammond told the court.
He said 16 toddlers had died in pools in WA since 2012, and the state should follow the lead of other jurisdictions like NSW.
“All pools at day care centres should be banned,” he said.
The family is also urging the coroner to recommend — as an alternative — better inspections of pools by day care providers in family day care settings.
They also want a change to the law so when there is a drowning death in a day care centre, damages of up to $75,000 can be awarded.
Gates checked ‘every morning’: carer
Giving evidence before the inquest, Ms Zablah described through tears how she checked every day to make sure the two gates to the pool were closed, including on the day Lachlan died.
“I would follow the same procedure every morning,” she said.
Ms Zablah acknowledged that, as part of her emergency procedures, she should have had her phone on her at all times, but said she misplaced it after she had gone into the pool to pull Lachlan out.
“I wasn’t sure how he got inside the pool,” she said, insisting the gate was closed.
Under questioning by Mr Hammond, Ms Zablah agreed Lachlan’s family had told him he was hyper mobile and liked to climb things.
She also agreed an aloe vera pot plant near the pool was the most likely way Lachlan had climbed into the pool.
Ms Zablah said the plant would have been there when the pool was inspected by Surf Life Saving WA and by Communicare, the family day care provider she operated through.
Asked why she did not move the pot, she said: “I knew I had to do it. But I was so busy all the time.”
Ms Zablah also conceded she had only visually checked the gate that morning, not physically.
She agreed pools should not be allowed in family day care centres, and that there should be a minimum of two supervisors and an emergency landline.
In November 2016, Ms Zablah was fined $6500 after pleading guilty to breaching state guidelines for the proper supervision of children.
Communicare has since changed its safety policies and no longer approves family day care centre educators who have a pool at home. Seven existing family day care centres with a Pre-existing pool have been allowed to continue.
Communicare chief executive Melissa Perry said there was now a specific home pool safety check for these and a monthly inspection.
Ms Perry said they had not been deregistered because they were long-term and trusted care providers.