MORTON, Wash. -- It can be one of the scariest decisions a parent ever makes: where to send their child for daycare. But what happens when a daycare fails to keep a child safe? The KOMO 4 Problem Solver discovered that a local daycare never reported allegations of one child inappropriately touching another and when the state did find out you'll be shocked by what they did.
Hello, Kitty and explosions of pink color the bedroom of Wendy Justus's four-year old daughter. Justus has surrounded her with simple, sweet, safety. "She's so little, and she actually says that I'm her best friend and she always tells mommy everything." Last June Justus' daughter did tell her everything, when something bad happened at daycare. "She had started crying."
Morton Child Care is the only daycare in the small Lewis County town of Morton. Justus's daughter had been attending for about six months. When we visited we found the toddler room, with blankets and mats, set up for the youngest children to nap. Justus's daughter had told her mother last summer that she and two little boys had been left there, alone. But one four year old boy didn't go to sleep according to Justus, "and then she said that he rolled over and forcefully tried to pull her pants down." Justus says her daughter told her the day care worker had closed both upper and lower toddler room doors: no adult was watching. "And she said he then took his hand and put it on her vagina, skin to skin," added Justus, "I felt like I was going to throw up."
That was the first of several incidents at the daycare that Justus says she reported to the day care owner - Janice Holmes. She says Holmes assured her that her daughter would not be left alone again, that she would talk to the boy's parents, and that she would report the incidents to state Child Protective Services. "At that time I felt that my daughter would be safe."
After another incident allegedly involving the same boy Justus contacted the Morton Police Chief. A copy of his report shows that daycare owner Holmes also told him she'd, "reported the incident to CPS ... "
Justus finally pulled her daughter out of the daycare when she called CPS in October to ask about the investigation and she discovered Holmes had never reported anything. "It makes me just sick," Justus told us.
When the Problem Solvers talked to Janice Holmes, the owner of Morton Child Care, she freely admitted she never reported the incident. We asked why and Holmes shrugged and said, "I don't have an explanation for that."
After Justus contacted the state, both Child Protective Service and the Department of Early Learning, which licenses all day cares, investigated. The Problem Solvers obtained copies of those reports. At Morton Child Care one worker told us the daycare had been exonerated, telling us, "it was unfounded." But that's not exactly true.
The CPS investigation reported it was, "more likely than not," that the worker, " closed the door," leaving the children alone and the boy had, "touched (the girl's) vagina,", however CPS did not find the worker guilty of negligence because she likely believed the children, "were asleep." But the investigator was concerned that the owner never made an, "incident report," and then, "lied to a parent," saying she had.
Reporter Tracy Vedder asked daycare owner Holmes: "But you told people that you had reported it?:
Vedder: "So you lied?"
Holmes: "I did, the mother, I did tell her."
Vedder: "And the Police Chief?"
Holmes: "Um, I had a conversation with the Police Chief saying that I let the mother know that I'd reported it."
And the Department of Early Learning Investigation found that Holmes had violated state laws which require both adequate supervision and reporting any allegations of abuse. Holmes told us, "this is one incident that totally got blown out of proportion. There were some mistakes made in the process, there's nothing we can do to fix them now."
DEL only required Holmes to sign a document promising to provide additional staff training. Justus doesn't think that's enough, "That doesn't seem fair - or right" She believes it's a slap on the wrist and that ultimately the daycare didn't take the complaint seriously. "I'm not angry anymore," she adds, "I'm just more upset for my daughter."
The state refused to do an on camera interview. In an e-mail to the Problem Solvers the Department of Early Learning said they worked with the facility to correct the violations but the Problem Solvers found no evidence of any increased state oversight or additional inspections. Just the signed promise by Morton Child Care to talk to employees during a staff meeting.