State orders suspension of Dundalk day care

June 28, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt and Jenny Hopkinson | Laura Barnhardt and Jenny Hopkinson,Sun reporters

State authorities ordered yesterday that a Dundalk day care center close temporarily, as state and Baltimore County officials investigated a report of possible child abuse at the facility.

The operator has 72 hours to appeal the 30-day closure.

A former employee at Jack and Jill Child Care Center in the 400 block of Westfield Road called police Tuesday - at first anonymously - to say a child was bound by tape and that children were put into a dark basement, said Cpl. Mike Hill, a county police spokesman.

Investigators have identified a 4-year-old child who was taped to either a chair or cot, Hill said. But no charges have been filed against day care providers, he said.

"We have not established whether this was abuse or neglect," Hill said.

Officers were continuing to interview children and parents yesterday, Hill said. County health and social services officials are also investigating, spokeswomen for those agencies said.

An officer found mold, rat feces, rat poison and dirt in the day care center's basement, Hill said.

Reached by phone yesterday, Darla Jones, director of the facility, said she had no comment "at this time."

The day care has been in operation for more than 30 years, Jones said.

Two children played outside late yesterday afternoon at the center that sits at Westfield and Southbrook roads. On the wood chips between the chain-link fence and the large, two-story white house, the boys raced after each other, avoiding slides and the weather-worn plastic cars and toy kitchen sets in the yard.

Stacy Britton, whose 3-year-old son has attended the day care center for a year, said she was surprised by the allegations.

Britton said she had been questioned by police, who asked whether her son had come home with any marks on his body.

But she said she was "completely satisfied" and that her son "loves it" there. "I'm shocked that a disgruntled employee can cause so many problems for so many people," she said.

Britton, who lives a few blocks from the center, said that "at [age] 4, if this happened, the child would have told someone immediately."

Another parent, Jan Gray of Ambler Road, whose son has been going to the day care for three years, also questioned the validity of the allegations.

"The staff is wonderful," she said. "We haven't had any issues."

Britton and Gray said they had no plans to take their children out of Jack and Jill unless it's closed for good.

"Obviously, we would have to find another day care," Gray said. "It's not something we really want to do."

The center is licensed by the Maryland Department of Education's Office of Child Care to serve 39 children, said Rolf Grafwallner, who heads the agency.

Staff at the regional office delivered an emergency order to suspend operations at the center yesterday afternoon, he said. The operator has 72 hours to appeal the 30-day suspension, he said.

If the decision to close the facility is appealed, a hearing before a state administrative judge will be scheduled within the next seven days, he said. The judge would then determine if there's enough evidence to warrant the facility's closure, Grafwallner said.

Staff at the Office of Child Care found enough evidence to warrant the closure of the Jack and Jill Child Care Center during inspections this week, after receiving a report of possible abuse at the facility, Grafwallner said.

The agency also routinely inspects day care facilities unannounced once a year and announced every two years, he said.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com jenny.hopkinson@baltsun.com

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