It's not easy to send your child to day care. Even when you know they're in safe hands, even when you know that the service is a necessity for your family, it's always going to be a struggle to fully trust someone with your child and your child's needs. When someone violates that trust, it can be absolutely devastating.
Someone violated Melaina Whitley's trust in a particularly awful way. Her son, 4-year-old Tanner, has been attending a special kind of day care — Friendship Pediatric Services — to work with a speech therapist for his developmental delays. The Arkansas child care center serves special-needs children, which makes it all the more disturbing that someone allegedly fed Tanner hot sauce as a disciplinary measure when he misbehaved.
Whitley said she had to find out what punishment was used the hard way, watching her son vomit all afternoon after a session at the day care. It wasn't until her preschooler told her he had been fed hot sauce that she even knew such a punishment was being administered. After Whitley went to the police, they were able to confirm that a caretaker there had put hot sauce in Tanner's mouth as a punishment. Whitley believes the woman who did so is still working at the day care, according to a local news outlet that was not able to confirm whether this is true.
Like most states, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which oversees the licensing of child care centers, has strict rules about what constitutes an appropriate disciplinary measure for children. It's restricted entirely to timeouts, which are generally considered developmentally appropriate for children Tanner's age.
Developmentally appropriate standards shouldn't be foreign to the people at this day care. If they serve a special-needs population, they should know, live and breathe those standards. That's supposed to be their whole thing.
As parents, how do we know if the day care providers and child care professionals we are entrusting with the well-being of our children are adhering to these guidelines? Well, we have to ask them.
Not just once at the beginning, when we're shopping around for affordable and quality centers, a mix of qualities that can seem damn near impossible to pin down. A lot of us will go in with a list of questions gleaned from the internet or friends or other moms and run through them like a checklist, and that's good.
Day care centers usually have a standard set of answers for these questions, which they've repeated over and over again, and an official handbook they refer prospective clients to, and that's also good. But the questions need to go deeper, and parents should be firm on needing detailed answers. Instead of just asking a director or receptionist, two people who often aren't in the same room as your kid every day, familiarize yourself with the people who will be, and confront them with your questions.
Find out what methods of discipline are used and what kind of behavior the center deems worthy of them. Find out how you'll be informed about incidents involving your child that require discipline. Ask them if they ever use unorthodox or corporal punishments, and make it clear these are off the table for your child. Revisit all these questions and answers frequently.
Yes, you should be able to trust that a day care will do this for your kid. You should be able to feel assured they will follow licensing requirements and not give your child freaking hot sauce when they misbehave. But that isn't always the case. Clearly it's not. And even when you've got an entire center in lockstep with developmentally appropriate discipline, it takes only one bad apple to spoil it all. One person who doesn't know the rules or doesn't really care. You should be able to entrust your child's well-being to the people who have made it their living to protect and nurture your child. But sadly that's not always the case.
Make sure that if it isn't, you and your child don't get burned.
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