The 59-year-old’s offending was described as a “gross breach of trust” by Judge June Jelas during sentencing in Waitakere District Court this afternoon.
Abraham was the manager and a teacher at Bright Minds early childhood centre at the time of the offending, which was carried out over a period of five years – “increasing in severity and frequency” between 2014 and last year.
Her victims were aged between 18 months and 4 years old.
Judge Jelas described how Abraham had smacked a number of the children on the hand and had force-fed others – including one child who was force-fed his own vomit after bringing his food up.
The same child had his mouth washed out with soap after using bad language.
A misbehaving 2-year-old girl was held in place to prevent her moving and when the toddler smacked Abraham, she smacked her back, Judge Jelas said.
On another occasion, Abraham sat an 18-month-old infant in her lap at feeding time, contrary to best practice, and held the child horizontal until they started to choke. At that point she covered the child’s mouth until they swallowed the food.
Most of the punishments were carried out in front of other centre staff, Judge Jelas said, but they felt unable to raise concerns.
It was “blatant behaviour in front of others”, which showed a lack of insight into her actions, Judge Jelas said.
In a victim impact statement, the mother of one of the children said she had migrated to New Zealand in search of a better life and higher standards, and felt “significantly let down” by what had happened.
She accepted there had been no long-lasting damage to her child, but said it had caused her significant anguish and she now found it difficult to trust early childhood staff at the centre her son now goes to.
In addition, the parents of a special needs child provided a “very balanced statement”, Judge Jelas said, in which they acknowledged feeling let down and a breach of trust, but also said their son had interactions with Abraham that continued to be beneficial and had “fond memories” of her.
However, Judge Jelas said the former teacher’s behaviour constituted a breach of trust, was carried out on “defenceless” children who had been entrusted to her care and were “completely dependent” upon her.
She also believed it constituted a breach of the Education Act, which states a teacher must not use force for correction or punishment.
Abraham was sentenced to five months’ home detention for six charges of smacking and three charges of force-feeding.
A condition to restrict her access to children unsupervised was not imposed after Judge Jelas said she did not believe Abraham posed a risk to the public.
“I do not consider you a danger to society,” she said, adding she did not believe her behaviour would be repeated in future.
Abraham’s lawyer Graeme Newell said she would not be commenting outside court and declined to speak on behalf of his client.
Source: NZ Herald