ST. GEORGE — After several red flags caused a woman to question her children’s safety at a child care facility in St. George, she immediately withdrew her children and is warning other parents to do the same. However, despite her insistence, as well as concerns expressed by other parents and a former employee, authorities have been unable to substantiate the claims that the day care poses a threat to children.
One of the biggest warning signs for Jeanetta Dockstader, a mother from St. George, was the appearance of some bruises on her 3-year-old daughter’s arm that she said resulted from an incident at Little Harvard Academy, a child care facility near downtown St. George.
Little Harvard’s Facebook page highlights smiling children participating in activities like field trips to a bowling alley or getting visits from Smokey Bear, and there hasn’t been any official findings of violations by the Department of Health.
However, Dockstader said her children and the children of other mothers with whom she’s spoken were at risk of harm at the day care center.
“I don’t think kids should be there,” Dockstader said.
“It was a hectic time”
The incident with Dockstader’s daughter receiving bruises happened in January, after which she withdrew her children. However, Dockstader didn’t ask managers at the day care about what could have caused the bruises until three days after the incident.
“When I asked the managers about it, they said they didn’t know what caused it and that it was a hectic time,” Dockstader said.
She said managers at Little Harvard Academy didn’t let Dockstader see footage from the cameras that were in the room at the time, so she couldn’t see what caused the bruises, which was another red flag for her.
Emily Baumgarten, who told St. George News she worked at Little Harvard for two years until April when she quit, said she heard the bruises on Dockstader’s daughter were caused by another employee grabbing her arm roughly to put her back on her cot when she kept getting up during nap time.
Dockstader said she filed a report with the St. George Police Department in July, adding that it took that long to get around to it with her busy schedule. After a brief investigation, police concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to support any child abuse relating to Dockstader’s daughter at Little Harvard.
“The bruise, in my opinion, was consistent with a typical three-year-old child falling down or banging into something,” wrote Michael Christensen, the responding police officer, on the police report. “I based this observation off my own own three-year-old and five-year-old.”
The police report also noted that because Dockstader waited until July to file the report, “it puts a damper on it due to the time frame.”
Tania Madrigal, the manager at Little Harvard Academy, told St. George News she did not believe the bruise was caused at the day care facility.
“When we talked to the girl and we talked to the staff, she told multiple staff members that she fell at her grandma’s,” Madrigal said.
Dockstader said there was no way it could have happened at the girl’s grandmother’s house because she first saw the bruise after picking her up from the day care. There was no bruise on her daughter’s arm when she dropped her off at the day care that day.
According to Madrigals statement on the police report, the reason why the staff at Little Harvard couldn’t give video footage of the incident to Dockstader was because she “was not able to provide any kind of time reference when she believed the incident occurred so they were not able to find any video of the incident.”
When she removed her children from the day care, Dockstader said she broke her contract by not giving Little Harvard a two-week notice that they were leaving. Because of that, Little Harvard is suing Dockstader in collections court for about $700 to cover costs associated with breaking the contract.
“If your kids are in danger, you have every right to pull them out and they should not be able to charge you for breaking the contract,” Dockstader said. “You can’t force someone to leave their kids in the day care and charge them while they’re getting hurt.”
Madrigal told St. George News that Dockstader is “just upset she has to pay her bill.”
In addition to the question of the bruise, Dockstader said her 6-year-old daughter witnessed a violent physical fight between employees where hair was being torn out. This fight resulted in one of the employees getting fired, Dockstader said.
Another time, she said her 3-year-old daughter was getting punched by another child when she arrived to pick up her children and employees wouldn’t do anything about it.
After taking her children out of Little Harvard, Dockstader took to social media to voice her concerns about the day care. Since then, she said she has received many messages from other mothers and former employees who also had concerns about abuse happening at the facility, such as children being left in dirty diapers all day and being neglected when crying.
Baumgarten said policies were rarely followed, and cleanliness was a big problem at the facility.
“There would be times when it just wasn’t very clean,” Baumgarten said. “There have been times when people who I worked with would have pictures of stuff like mold in the fridge.”
There was a policy put in place at one point to prevent bullying at the facility by punishing children who bully other kids, but it was never followed, Baumgarten said, which led to bullying becoming rampant at the facility.
“There was nothing stopping the kids from being mean to each other,” Baumgarten said. “The managers just didn’t care.”
Baumgarten said she would only recommend bringing infants and children over the age of five to Little Harvard, because any other child between infancy and the age of five may get hurt from the “chaotic environment” at the facility.
While most of the reviews online are positive about Little Harvard, several other users wrote scathing reviews with additional concerns, and many of them have direct responses from management.
“I wish there was more I could do”
All of the concerns people had about Little Harvard prompted Elissa Youngbluth, a mother in St. George, to contact Child Protective Services about the day care.
Youngbluth never had kids enrolled in Little Harvard because she said she was turned off by the rude staff at the facility when looking for day cares in the area, but she said she has heard from other mothers about their experiences with Little Harvard.
“There’s been multiple times where people have been expressing these same concerns,” Youngbluth said. “I don’t believe there could be 30 or more people who have the same issues and there actually being nothing wrong with the facility. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Officials at the Department of Health and Child Protective Services would not confirm or deny receiving any complaints about Little Harvard, but Tom Hudachko, a Health Department spokesman, said there has not been any substantiated findings from investigations if there were complaints at the day care.
Christensen wrote in his police report that the Department of Health was contacted about the abuse claims, but a case was unlikely to be opened.
Amy Huggard, the owner of Little Harvard Academy declined to speak to St. George News about the concerns about her facility. She referred questions to her lawyer, Adam Dunn, who did not respond to multiple requests from St. George News for comment.
“I wish there was more I could do,” Dockstader said when asked if she was considering further legal action against Little Harvard. “I wouldn’t let any kids go there, especially after the way my kids were treated there. That’s not OK.”
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