Ex-kindergarten head gets suspended sentence for maltreatment

Ljubljana – Branimira Vrečar, the former head of her private kindergarten in Ljubljana, received a two-year suspended prison sentence with a probation of four years for “neglect of minors and cruel treatment of children”.

Vrečar, 70, pleaded guilty last week but did not attend today’s handing down of the sentence at the District Court in Ljubljana. She was also ordered to pay court fees.

Some children’s advocates have already complained about what they see as too mild a sentence after last week’s pre-trail hearing.

Sergeja Bogunič, defence lawyer for one of the effected parties, said it was “absolutely too low”, adding a smuggler of illegal migrants immediately gets three years in prison even if they plead guilty, because this is the minimum for such a crime. She said the problem was with the prosecution, which had proposed such a sentence.

Judge Urška Zorko explained she could not hand down a stricter sentence than proposed by the prosecution after the defendant pleaded guilty at the pre-trial hearing.

In reading the sentence, the judge described Vrečar’s treatment of ten children at the Kengurujčki kindergarten, which came to the public’s attention in 2018.

Vrečar yelled at them, insulted them and force-fed them, while not giving others enough food even if they asked for it.

When putting them to bed for a nap, she wrapped them tightly head-to-toe in a sheet so that they could not move.

She limited the intake of drinks so that children would not need to go to the loo, and denied some to go to the loo.

She moreover let a child outside in the cold dressed just in underwear, while leaving another in a sweater in the heat.

According to the judge, the defendant was rough with the children while some were still babies.

This left some “consequences” on them, including waking in the night crying, not wanting to go to kindergarten, being upset, while acting and playing aggressively, but most have withered when the children started going to other kindergartens.

In was in October 2018 that footage of Vrečar’s maltreatment of children, taken by a nanny, was aired by Public broadcaster TV Slovenija.

The scandal promoted changes to kindergarten legislation, banning those who are not registered as nannies from engaging in pre-school education and day care.

The Kengurujčki kindergarten had registered day care as its line of business but did not have the national kindergarten licence, given by the Education Ministry.

Vrečar worked at her kindergarten as a cook and cleaner while also helping the nannies although she did not have the necessary know-how or education.

At the time of the scandal, Education Ministry data showed there were 334 public kindergartens in Slovenia, 88 private kindergartens and 337 registered nannies.

Since public kindergartens in Slovenia are crowded, parents often have no choice but to enrol their children in a private kindergarten or resort to other options.