25 Investigates: Many Mass. day cares failing the children they are paid to keep safe

For today’s working parents, day care has become a necessity. Given the high cost of child care, parents expect their child to be safe and nurtured.

But, as 25 Investigates found, many Massachusetts child care providers are failing the children they are paid to care for.

Roughly 150 kids are seriously injured, and 1 child dies each year at day cares across the state, according to data from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency responsible for overseeing and licensing child care providers.

One of those injured kids was Ashleigh Fay’s son, Nolan. She says the toddler, 18 months at the time, was “viciously attacked” by another child while in a class at First Path Day Care in Watertown. The incident left Nolan with four deep bite marks on his back.

“I barely grazed Nolan’s back, and he was clenching his fists and screaming,” said Fay. “I immediately picked up his shirt and I was so irate and what I had seen.”

The mother of three said she noticed the markings about an hour after she picked up Nolan from First Path. Given that there was no mention of an injury at pick up, Fay immediately called the day care seeking to find out what happened to her son.

She says the business manager, who answered the phone, was unable to provide clear and enough information.

Fay then called the pediatrician who instructed her to feel the wounds to see if they were raised. That caused Nolan to scream in pain, she says. A visit to the pediatrician the next day confirmed the markings were “human bites,” according to medical records.

The doctor immediately alerted the state and that, in turn, prompted an investigation by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCF) and EEC.

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“If they had called me and had said ‘Nolan was bit. We’re calling to let you know we applied ice, we cleaned the mark or marks,’ in this case. I would’ve checked it out and I would’ve had him at the pediatrician immediately. That wasn’t even an option because they didn’t tell me, and I didn’t even see it until however many hours after it happened,” she said.

Fay believes lack of supervision led to the incident and that the day care did not do enough to protect her child.

“Toddlers bite. Especially, when they don’t have the language to express themselves. One bite can happen. Four bites? No. Somebody wasn’t doing their job.”

25 Investigates obtained the EEC report. It indicates First Path was cited for violating several state regulations, including not providing adequate supervision for the toddler group and regularly leaving an unqualified teaching assistant alone with up to nine toddlers.

Additionally, the report points out that First Path staff were aware that “the classroom was noted to have a large number of children with propensity to bite others,” and “the parent was not informed about the injury.”

First Path disputes the findings by EEC and Fay’s allegations.  In a statement to 25 Investigates the owner says:

“Safety of the children is number one priority at our school. Our center is in compliance with safety measures.  Our school has been serving families since 1998 and has been administered by the same Program Director all that time.”

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But education and safety experts say even one injury at a day care is too much.

“The day care center has a higher level of duty to supervise kids than even the parent does,” says Dr. Edward Dragan, an early education expert and owner of School Liability Expert Group.  “The responsibility of the person who's in charge of the class is to look out for any possible dangers.”

One danger one mom we spoke to would have never imagined at a day care was an animal attack. The first-time mother, who asked to remain anonymous, says her six-month-old baby was clawed and bitten by a pet ferret while napping in his crib at a home day care in Lunenberg. The incident, which occurred this month, left her child’s face scratched and bloody.

“Both sides of his face were completely cut up and just bloody and it was terrible,” recalls the mother, who says she broke down in tears when she first saw her baby in the emergency room.

EEC and DCF are investigating the incident and the day care is currently closed. 25 Investigates has learned that the day care owner had been previously investigated by DCF.

The baby’s mom says she was not aware the day care owner had pet ferrets and wishes she had disclosed that information when she first visited the child care facility, which operates out of the basement of the owner’s residence.

“I don't know what she was doing when this was happening because I don't think she was supervising the children,” she said. “He must've been really screaming and crying. There was something biting and scratching him.”

25 Investigates obtained data for large group school age programs in EEC’s two largest regions. It reveals that more than 75 child programs were cited for 16 different regulatory violations during the second half of 2018 alone.

Among the most common violations: improper student to teacher ratios, lack of adequate supervision and providing misleading or false information to regulators.

In an email, EEC told 25 Investigates:

"Massachusetts has some of the most rigorous child care licensing standards in the country to ensure that programs provide safe and enriching environments for children, including annual unannounced visits. The Department of Early Education and Care works every day to support educators and programs in providing high-quality care for children that fosters their healthy growth and development."

According to Dragan, a former day care and school administrator, a yearly visit is simply not enough when it comes to the safety of young children.

“I would suggest that the state visit a day care center at least on a quarterly basis at least every 2 to 3 months.”

Dragan also recommends that parents check out a day care's history and that they visit a prospective day care for at least an hour to see how teachers interact with children.

All the data 25 Investigates obtained for this story, including complaints and violations, is available to the public and can be requested through EEC.

Parents can use the following links to get more information about licensed day cares or to contact EEC:

Click here to access the EEC's website
Click here for contact information for EEC's regional offices
Click here for an online directory of licensed child care programs: