Daycare ‘fight club’ pits toddler against toddler

This is the kind of story that is so unbelievable, it seems like it couldn’t possibly be true. New Jersey parents are outraged after discovering what two former day care employees have been up to: the day care workers were caught encouraging children to fight and posting videos of the preschool “fight club” to Snapchat.

Erica Kenny, 22, and Chanese White, 28, have both been served with summonses for fourth-degree child abuse, with an extra charge for Kenny for child endangerment. The women were busted after Kenny was accused of instigating and filming physical fights between 4- to 6-year-old children on her cell phone, which she then allegedly shared with friends on Snapchat. Kenny reportedly captioned the Snapchat videos with references to the movie “Fight Club.”

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Fortunately, after the “fight club” footage surfaced, the Lightbridge Academy, where the women worked in Cranford, New Jersey, was quick to act. Both women were fired immediately. Lightbridge Academy vice president of operations Jaclyn Falzarano released a statement to NBC 4 New York, saying, “We are completely appalled. As a mom, I know those feelings.”

Appalled would be an understatement. For any parent, sending a child off to day care or school each day is far from easy. And it’s not just about the growing pains of a child getting older and exercising their independence — it’s about safety. In light of recent school shootings, like Sandy Hook in 2012, most parents are concerned about random acts of violence coming from an outsider.

But what happens when day care staff can’t be trusted? What is a parent supposed to do when a day care worker abuses her power — and abuses children — like this?

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This story of a day care “fight club” is especially disturbing because the abuse (which the day care workers obviously intended to be a “joke”) happened among very young children. In this case, the kids were of preschool age, 4 to 6, which meant they were able to go home and tell their parents what happened. If the kids were just a few years younger, in the toddler bracket — say, 2 to 3 years old — a toddler “fight club” could have gone on like this for quite some time before the day care workers were caught.

It’s horrifying to think that your child may not be able to tell you what’s happening to them at day care. But there are some things you can do to set your mind at ease and make sure your child is safe from the time that you drop them off until you pick them up each day.

First and foremost, choose a day care you trust. There’s nothing more powerful than trusting your instincts as a parent — in most cases, you know right away where your child will be safe. You can also use this helpful checklist to make sure that the in-home day care or childcare center you are considering is up to par.

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But there’s more. If you have any questions about your child’s safety at day care, don’t be afraid to be that annoying parent. It’s your right. You’re not only paying for your child’s care each day, but you are responsible for their safety and well-being. Drop in unannounced. Ask your day care provider pointed questions about anything that makes you uncomfortable and set up a meeting to settle a problem if necessary.

And most importantly, make a daily habit of talking to your child about what went on during the day while you were apart. Ask them questions rather than expecting them to announce something that was off. Even if your child can’t talk yet, you can easily pick up on their cues. If your child is suddenly afraid to go to day care, it could be a normal progression in their development, or it may be a deeper problem that needs investigating.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the parent who makes waves to get your child the care they deserve. But if this unsettling story teaches us anything about a parent’s relationship with their child’s day care, it is this: it never hurts to speak up. Even if nothing as dangerous as a “Fight Club” is going on behind the scenes, it’s always a parent’s job to speak for a child who can’t speak for themselves.