Research is key to good decision-making
The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.
That’s a bit of an understatement if you’re the Lightbridge Academy Center in Cranford, New Jersey, where two former day care workers are accused of encouraging toddlers to take part in fighting and rough housing.
Yesterday, CBS reported that the staffs—22 and 28-years-old—had been encouraging kids (4 to 6 years old) to hit and shove one another. The duo took video of the scuffles and shared it on social media with their friends, sparking outrage from parents. Both are facing child abuse and child endangerment counts.
Keeping this under wraps was unlikely, no matter how much Lightbridge was hoping for it to simply fly under the radar. The CBS story mentioned that parents were stunned and outraged that such a thing could happen. The center has come forward with an apology, calling the pseudo fight club an “isolated incident.” That may not be enough to satisfy disgruntled parents. One was quoted as saying, “I hope these awful people get what they deserve,” referring to the ex-employees. The county prosecutor continues to investigate.
This scenario brings to mind several abuse cases we’ve handled involving day care centers. Parents put their trust in strangers all the time, and when strangers betray that sense of trust, it can be emotionally and physically traumatic for the child. We’ve written about insurance policies and determining whether your center is licensed and protected by insurance, just one of the many ways parents can maintain some degree of protection in the face of a legal problem, though that could turn out to be the least of your worries.
Just last year I worked on a civil case involving a child abuse case at a facility near St. Louis. This particular case was extremely painful and gut wrenching for the parents, whose six-year-old daughter was sexually abused by a day care employee. The incident in New Jersey shares a few similarities, one of which was the parents’ disbelief that a day care employee would willingly inflict harm upon a child.
Hopefully you or your family will never face the same circumstances. Here are some ways you can prevent it from happening:
The first rule of day care is…
Knowing the difference between licensed and license-exempt facilities
The state defines a day care center as “any child care facility which regularly provides day care for less than 24 hours per day for more than 8 children in a family home, or more than 3 children in a facility other than a family home, including senior citizen buildings,” just one of many criteria.
Day care centers that meet the criteria are required to file for a license barring some exemptions, which include:
- The facility receives no governmental aid,
- is operated as a component of religious, nonprofit elementary school,
- operates primarily to provide religious education, and
- meets appropriate State or local health and fire safety standards.
There are several requirements outlined by the state that allow for exemption. Understanding why a center qualifies for exemption is not necessarily a bad thing. Your preferences could simply differ from what the state requires under certain circumstances. A non-exempt facility could align with your religious beliefs, or the preferred size of the center. It could also mean different standards for employees. For example, a license-exempt facility could choose to hire employees with prior experience, paying them more than the state standard in comparison to a licensed facility. If you choose to go this route, make sure you’re thorough, as certain protections apply for licensed facilities.
Taking advantage of the Internet
Use all resources at your disposal before you make a commitment. This can range from a simple Google search to crowdsourcing consumer reviews by way of resources like Yelp, Angie’s List, even LinkedIn. You might be surprised by how much information you’ll gather by taking this first step. It may cut your options in half right from the get-go. Private School Review is another great resource that aggregates some helpful information—financial and otherwise—for private schools and a handful of daycare centers in Illinois.
Gathering references from friends/using a referral agency
Generally, nothing beats the recommendation of a friend. An endorsement from the people you trust most can provide great peace of mind. It’s also beneficial to seek out a referral agency with a proven track record of success, even a social worker that makes recommendations as part of their job. One of the best ways to do this is to seek out a social worker that’s familiar with the area.
Make a random visit
Perhaps the most productive option at your disposal is the one most parents never consider. A random visit can make or break your decision. Is it clean? Are the kids engaged? Is it well staffed? Those little things can mean a lot in the long run. You may find something that looks dirty or in disrepair. The only way to know for sure is to see it with your own eyes. If you’ve showed up randomly and the center is skeptical of giving you a tour, it’s time to cross it off your list.
Levinson and Stefani concentrates on child-injury cases as part of its practice. We offer free legal advice for families with any questions or concerns.