January 24

Maine official: State’s response to day care abuse fell short

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State officials “could have done a better job” handling a day care center in Lyman where investigators found that a co-owner was “abusive, humiliating and intimidating” to children in her care, said the head of the agency that oversees licensing of day care centers in Maine.

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Hannah and Brett Williams, shown with their children in Sanford, didn’t learn until this month that their son was swaddled too tightly in an incident at least three years ago at a Lyman day care center. Brett Williams says he doesn’t understand why the day care was granted a conditional license despite findings of mistreatment there.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Kenneth Albert, director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday in a conference call that his division is reviewing why the state gave the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool a conditional license to operate after the investigation last summer, and didn’t revoke its license.

Investigators reported that Cheryl Dubois slammed a child to the floor, forced children to put soap in their mouths, and pulled a chair out from under a child who suffered a bruise and a cut, among other incidents.

“I am pursuing this situation,” Albert said. “I want to have an appreciation of all the facts and understand why certain decisions were made.” He said the review will be internal and will not be released to the public, so employees will be encouraged to be open and admit mistakes.

Albert said his division has already started making changes, such as a new policy to inform parents if the DHHS is investigating an allegation that their child was abused at a day care center.

The division also is looking into launching a website to post its investigative reports online, and possibly implementing a system to fingerprint day care operators and employees to check for allegations of abuse or criminal behavior in their past.

Albert could not say when the website or the fingerprint system might be implemented.

In a 90-minute conference call with the media, he said one of the most troubling aspects of the case in Lyman was comments from parents who felt the state hadn’t done enough to protect children from abuse.

“It’s really disheartening that a Maine citizen would feel we had let them down,”

NEW POLICY TO NOTIFY PARENTS

The conference call followed news reports about abuse of children at the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool, which closed two weeks ago.

In response to a Freedom of Access request by the Portland Press Herald, the DHHS later released a list of 21 day care centers and operators that were given conditional licenses in 2013, and four whose licenses were revoked. The Press Herald also requested investigative reports on those centers and operators, which the department has not released.

Albert said changes have been made in response to the case in Lyman, including the policy to inform parents about investigations involving their children. “A parent should have the right to have that information,” he said.

He said the policy was adopted in October and typically will involve notifying a parent in the course of getting permission to speak to their child. He said parents will be told an investigation is being done, the nature of the accusation, a notification of the results of the investigation, and information on any action taken.

Albert said he doesn’t think any parents have been informed yet about investigations involving their children.

Brett Williams of Sanford said the information-sharing is a good first step.

The investigative report on the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool said Dubois swaddled an infant so tightly that his eyes became bloodshot. The incident occurred at least three years ago, but Williams and his wife, Hannah, didn’t learn that it was their son who had been mistreated until news about the day care center appeared this month and a former day care worker told them what she had seen.

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