05/30/2013 12:48 EDT | Updated 07/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Six pre-schoolers left alone at unlicensed Winnipeg day home: police

WINNIPEG - Six children between one and five years old were left alone at an unlicensed home-based daycare in the Manitoba capital, police said Thursday.

The woman in charge, who was the sole caregiver, left the home at some point Tuesday, police said. A mother of one of the children arrived at 2 p.m. to pick up her child and was shocked to find no adults around.

"When the parent went there, there were ... numerous knocks at the residence that met with negative results," Det. Sgt. Natalie Aitken said.

"She was able to gain entry into the residence and at that time immediately notified police."

The children had been left alone at the house in the St. Vital area of Winnipeg for at least an hour but were unhurt, Aitken said.

She would not say what, if any, reason the caregiver gave for leaving the kids unattended, but Aitken added it was not due to a medical emergency or other crisis.

Police would not give the 33-year-old woman's name because she had yet to be formally charged with child abandonment. She was released pending her next court appearance. The daycare is no longer operating.

The Manitoba Child Care Association said parents have to do a lot of research into their child-care provider, especially since there is a severe shortage of licensed daycare centres that are monitored by the provincial government.

"The first thing you ask for is references, and then go into Phase 2 which is to go interview them," said Pat Wege, the association's executive director.

"You really have to, as a parent, now be intrusive. You want to look in the cupboard or under the kitchen sink to see what's there. You want to ask who else is in the home during the day."

There are currently 10,000 youngsters on the waiting list for licensed spots, the group said.

Police said cases of child abandonment involving daycare workers or babysitters are rare — most charges involve parents who leave their own child.

But there are cases where kids, even at licensed day cares, find themselves in harm's way.

Earlier this month, a two-year-old child at a licensed day home in Dauphin, Man., managed to squeeze through a fence in the yard and wander away, according to the Manitoba government's online licence order registry. The child was found about a half-hour later at a gas station.

Last May, two kids under the age of four managed to get out of a licensed daycare centre in Winnipeg, cross a busy avenue and walk a kilometre before being found.