Every parent’s worst fear is the day a call is received saying that something horrible has happened to their child. This nightmare can be even more horrific when the harm is caused by those who have been entrusted with the child’s safety and welfare.
Stories of abuse and neglect in daycare facilities have dominated the news over the past few years. On April 6th of this year, an 18-month-old child died after being found unresponsive at a daycare center in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. According to the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, the daycare center had been ordered by the state to stop providing services in 2015 after its operators did not renew their license. The District Attorney’s Office in Worcester is conducting an inquiry into this incident, as well as the death of a 10-week-old boy at the Bethany Church Day Care Center in Mendon on April 4th. The church was not licensed by the state to care for infants.
For many families with two working parents, seeking child care arrangements outside of the home is a necessity. Almost 25% of children who receive child care outside of the home received care in some type of organized facilities, such as child care and early education center or a Head Start program, and almost 14% receive care in the provider’s or child’s home. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers recommendations designed to help parents pick a safe and secure daycare:
- Make sure that the daycare center is designed so that parents are fully free to come and go, with no requirements to call first and no areas off-limits to parents. Daycare abuse and exploitation are far more likely to occur in facilities that have limited parental access.
- Make sure that the bathrooms do not contain areas where children can be isolated. Find out who takes the children to the bathroom, for what purposes, and at what times. Two-thirds of all daycare sexual abuse and exploitation occur during toileting.
- Make sure that there is proper supervision of children during naps. Children may be more at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation during naptime because other children are sleeping and staff may be out of the room.
- Ask about the extent of education and training of all daycare personnel interacting with your children, and determine if they were screened for any criminal history in a sexual or physical assault against children, emotional instability, or substance abuse. Be aware that volunteers or teacher’s aides are not likely to have been carefully screened.
- Find out who will be interacting with your children in addition to the daycare provider and staff. Much of the sexual and physical abuse and exploitation associated with daycare centers occur at the hands of individuals not directly involved in the teaching or child-care responsibilities: bus drivers, janitors, and relatives of the daycare center providers. In 36 percent of the cases examined by a nationwide study of daycare abuse, children were sexually molested by family members related to the daycare provider – mainly husbands or sons. Make sure that your child’s contact with such persons is limited, and question your child closely about them.
- Discuss in-depth with the daycare provider how the discipline of children is handled – who administers it, under what circumstances it is used, and what form it takes. Make sure to talk to your children each day about what happens at the daycare center, paying close attention to what punishments were used under what circumstances and any other incidents that made the child uncomfortable.
- While not a guarantee against daycare abuse, if you choose a larger center, it is a good idea to select a daycare facility that is licensed and that makes criminal history background checks on its employees. When you have chosen a daycare provider, the best way to get to know the staff and observe their behavior first-hand is to involve yourself in some way in the activities of the center by volunteering to assist on field trips or special events.
Children in daycare are vulnerable, lacking the capacity to stand up for themselves or even to disclose abuse to a parent. Parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for signs of abuse and/or neglect. If parents or caregivers suspect that abuse is taking place at daycare, they should take the child out of the daycare facility, alert the proper authorities and ensure that their child receives the proper medical and social services.
If you or your family has been adversely affected due to any such daycare or child abuse incident, please contact our attorneys. We are here to answer your questions and discuss how you can protect your legal rights. To learn more about what we can do for you, arrange a confidential appointment with one of our daycare abuse lawyers in our Boston office by calling (617) 742-1900.