daycareOne of my worst nightmares became a reality a month ago: One of my child’s daycare teachers was fired for allegedly abusing children.

I had received a strange phone call several weeks earlier, from the daycare director. “You may be receiving a call about Jessie some time today,” she said. “Did you have any complaints about her regarding her taking care of your daughter?”

I didn’t. My first impression of Jessie was that she was a bit distant with the kids—the first time I saw her, she was outside on the playground holding a toddler, surveying the group of kids without a smile. I thought she was someone’s mom, because she didn’t seem very interested in interacting with everyone. But she was young, somewhat attractive, and perhaps these things tricked me into believing she was perfectly competent.

After that phone call, she and the other primary toddler teacher were both fired from the daycare. A handful of the kids who had been enrolled full-time also stopped coming. My daughter didn’t seem any different through the whole ordeal. She’d had some trouble sleeping on occasion, but this wasn’t anything new (we co-sleep, so we all sometimes toss and turn). I assumed it was a technicality – maybe Jessie hadn’t adhered to the child-to-adult ratio, or maybe she gave a kid the wrong kind of food. I didn’t know, but everyone seemed so calm about it. I assumed things were taken care of. Plus, the director had installed security cameras in all of the rooms, which seemed like a good proactive step.

But I found out a couple of weeks later from an ex-employee, one who had quit after a long three years of loyal service, a little more about what had been going on. Jessie had locked a child in the toddler bathroom, a tiny, dark space, as punishment. She had also discovered that a particular stuffed animal scared one of the little girls, so she would terrorize the girl with it whenever she misbehaved. And when they were playing outside in the summer heat, the protocol was to spritz the children with a water bottle to keep them cool – but Jessie would turn the spray on jet and squirt the kids in the face. The other employees caught on when they noticed the toddlers running away and crying whenever they would get out spray bottles to clean the rooms.

A police investigation has been consequently launched and charges have been pressed against Jessie by the family of one of the children.

When I learned all of this, my heart sank. I asked the ex-employee, a very wonderful young lady I’ll call Lyla, if she had ever seen anything happen to my daughter.

“No. Oh no. If I had seen anything, you would know about it.” Lyla, and several of the other teachers, seem to have a very strong bond with my daughter, and I trust all of them. Still, I wondered why they didn’t report Jessie sooner.

“We tried,” Lyla said. “It’s tricky, because you have to have evidence, and all of the things we told the daycare director were just hearsay. We would try to correct Jessie and tell her not to be so mean to the kids, but she didn’t listen. She’s crazy. Since she got fired, she’s been calling in every day to ‘report’ things we’ve supposedly done because she’s angry about being let go. She said I threw a baby down in a crib, supposedly after they installed the cameras. When the director asked me about it, I said, okay, let’s sit down and watch the footage! I’ll bring popcorn and we’ll make a thing of it.”

I smiled. Lyla is one of the most naturally kindhearted people I’ve ever met, an old soul in a 20-year-old’s body. She went on to tell me about the other toddler teacher who was let go, Laura. Laura had supposedly left a bruise on a child. A part of me wants to believe that could have been a case of terrible timing, because it’s not hard to accidentally leave bruises on a wriggly toddler during a diaper change, but it was still unsettling to have both of my daughter’s teachers (and many of her peers) disappear at once. As far as I know, Laura has not been formally charged with anything.

Since this ordeal, the daycare has hired a wonderful new girl who my daughter took to right away. My little girl waves “bye bye” and smiles at her every day, which is a good sign, I think. The remaining teachers are loving and my daughter seems joyous in their presence.

Still, learning all of this about Jessie and Laura made me seriously question my judgment of character. Like I said, I sensed something was a little off about Jessie, but I would have never imagined her capable of terrorizing a child. In my state, most of the daycares around don’t require that their teachers have a child development degree. Those that do are out of my price range. But truthfully, a degree isn’t some magic force field against abuse, either.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not “seeing” this earlier, because I couldn’t have known it was going on. Like I said, there were no bruises and no serious behavioral changes in my daughter that would clue me in.

But I still fear that my daughter can’t unsee the things she saw, and that perhaps her faith in other adults has diminished a bit. All I can do is pay close attention to how she responds to her current care providers and continue to give her the love and structure she needs when she’s here at home.

(photo: Shyne School)