Lisa Jarvis, who worked at Busy Bees nursery in Hull, admitted the theft after forging colleagues’ signatures on petty cash vouchers and falsifying accounts.
She also used the company credit card to spend £134 on furniture for her former home.
The case is the latest in a series of court cases involving nursery staff found guilty of fraud.
Prosecutor Mark McKone told Hull Crown Court that Ms Jarvis, who has since been employed at another nursery, began stealing after she returned from maternity leave.
‘She was responsible for the accounts and most payments into the nursery were by direct debit,’ he said.
‘Some were paid by cash and the payments should have been recorded in a duplicate receipt book, which should have been signed by a parent and the defendant.
‘The theft involved the alteration of receipts by the defendant.
‘On some receipts she wrote 'non-attender', when in fact the child had attended.
‘If large amounts are taken, the procedure of counting cash should be witnessed by a colleague and payment should be entered onto an account sheet.
‘The defendant failed to enter it onto the account sheet.
‘She also failed to pay money into the bank, which was her responsibility.’
A total of £7,700 of payments for extra nursery sessions made by parents, who normally paid by direct debit, was not recorded and a further £6,500 was not paid into the nursery’s bank account.
At a disciplinary meeting she admitted she had used the company credit card and forged a colleague’s signature on a petty cash voucher, but she put the other transfers down to ‘incompetency’.
Nigel Clive told the court, in her defence, that Ms Jarvis and her husband had fallen into debt while she was on maternity leave and had been unable to keep up with payments for payday loans.
He told the court, ‘She led a blameless life up to the point of returning from maternity leave.
‘She and her husband have a relatively low budget between them – he works night shifts, she works days and they pass as ships in the night in order to keep things running.
‘When she left for maternity, her wage dropped and they turned to payday loans to bridge the gap.
‘The defendant fell behind with payments and a snowballing effect of the payday loans started to bite.
‘She owed more than she could possibly hope to earn.
‘When she returned to work, she succumbed to temptation and began to steal small amounts of money to get her from week to week.
‘Before she knew it, it had become an established form of offending.’
Ms Jarvis has paid £5,000 back to Busy Bees.
Sentencing has been deferred until 20 February at Grimsby Crown Court to allow her time to repay the money.
In a statement Busy Bees said, ‘We can confirm that a former employee at our Caughey Street nursery, has pleaded guilty at Hull Crown Court to theft of money from the nursery. The sum involved was significant but much has been repaid and arrangements for the remainder to be recovered are in place.
‘The theft related only to cash payments to the nursery and all the childcare that parents paid for has been delivered by the nursery. No parent is owed money as a result of this situation.
‘We take situations such as this very seriously and will always report any suspected fraudulent activity to the police. We have financial safeguards in place to ensure that any money paid at the nursery is properly accounted for and, as in this case, we are able to recognise when procedures are not properly followed.’
Louise Copson, divisional director, said, ‘We place trust in our staff at our nursery, both in the work that they do in caring for children and a range of other responsibilities. We have an excellent team at Caughey Street that has been let down by the actions of a single individual.’
In January the manager of a nursery in Bristol was jailed for stealing more than £16,000 after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position. Reports suggested that this was to pay off debts.
In the same month, a north London nursery owner pleaded guilty to 15 counts of fraud by false representation and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
- See our feature on how nurseries can help to avoid fraud.