Former childcare worker cleared over allegations of inappropriately touching children during tickling game

A former Victorian childcare worker has had his working with children check restored after being cleared of inappropriately touching children during a game of “monster tickles”.

Paul Kefford regularly played the tickling game with children in front of other staff and parents without complaint at the centre where he worked, a tribunal heard.

But in October 2020, he was stood down from his job, pending a probe into allegations the then 55-year-old touched a boy and girl, both aged four, in their genital area during the robust game in which he played a monster chasing kids to tickle.

He was formally questioned by his employer, education department officials and Victoria Police. He was never charged with any offence.

Mr Kefford acknowledged he may have inadvertently touched children in the way they described as they wriggled and squirmed during the game, but adamantly denied the touching was anything other than accidental, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was told.

VCAT, 55 King Street, Melbourne.
Camera IconVCAT has reinstated a former childcare worker’s clearance to work with children. Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Kefford was in November 2020 banned by the Education Department from working in childcare and stood down. The prohibition notice was later set aside by VCAT.

His working with children clearance was also revoked, a ruling Mr Kefford also fought at VCAT.

VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick found any touching by Mr Kefford near a child’s genital area or on a child’s skin was “neither intentional nor inappropriately motivated”.

“In regularly playing the raucous tickle monster game, Mr Kefford had no ulterior motive but played the game solely for the amusement and benefit of the children with whom he was playing the game and for no other reason,” she said.

“When children are squirming with horror and delight, there is of course the real possibility they can inadvertently be touched on a ‘private’ part of their body, either through clothes or if they are wearing shorts/skirts on their skin.

“I fully accepted Mr Kefford’s evidence that this is factually what occurred.”

Mr Kefford has never been charged with any criminal offence arising from the conduct.

The state justice department secretary emphasised Mr Kefford was an adult educator in a position of trust, who put himself in a position of risk of touching the genitals of the children.

It was contended it was a departure from the standards expected and the need to always respect the bodies of children.

Blurry shadow of a little boy and a girl walking with adults
Camera IconVCAT found the childcare worker posed ‘no risk to children at all’. Credit: istock

Ms Lambrick said she was satisfied Mr Kefford posed “no risk to children at all” and reinstated his working with children check.

“I accept Mr Kefford has taken total responsibility for his actions,” Ms Lambrick said in her ruling just before Christmas.

“Whilst he has been shattered by the consequences of playing the game, he has fully reflected on his conduct and vowed never to repeat it.

“Mr Kefford gave evidence that he has no intention to again work in childcare because he himself has been traumatised by the consequences of the conduct. I fully accept that he has been.

“He has been investigated, lost his job, had to endure two separate hearings before this tribunal, and explain and re-explain his conduct to his numerous character references.

“Having found Mr Kefford poses no risk to children, I am satisfied it is in the public interest for Mr Kefford to engage with children.

“He has children of his own with whom he wishes to actively engage. He should be permitted to do so.”


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