Families campaign to prosecute child care provider

Reports show history of violations with unlicensed day care

Allegations of child abuse and other violations against a local home day care provider have led to investigations since 2007, but no charges.

The Cole County prosecutor says he’s still considering charges in one case, but frustrated parents of children who were allegedly injured under Dorothy Thomas Carel’s care are growing more vocal. They’ve launched an aggressive social media campaign to push for prosecution.

Parents of two children who were injured at Carel’s unlicensed day care say she is operating the business illegally by having more than four unrelated children in her care.

Both parents and state Department of Health and Senior Services reports also allege Carel has left children unattended and has placed them in unsafe situations.

Carel refused requests to comment for this story.

A frantic phone call

Shortly after Rebecca and Nathan Green’s youngest child was born, they began leaving the infant at Carel’s home. Carel’s husband worked with Nathan Green.

On the morning of Sept. 27, 2011, Rebecca Green dropped the child off with Carel and headed for work.

Later that afternoon, she received a frantic call from Carel, who said an ambulance was at Carel’s house for Green’s 3-month-old and that she needed to come immediately.

“I could not get out of her if my child was bleeding, not breathing, nothing,” Green said. “I did not know what was happening to her until I got to her home six minutes later and saw the ambulance.”

When Rebecca Green arrived at the home, Carel was apologizing and crying. Wiping the tears off Green’s face, Carel asked her not to be mad, Green said. According to Green, Carel told her she may have burped the child too hard.

After speaking with the ambulance crew, Green insisted her child be taken to a hospital emergency room.

After several days of testing, doctors diagnosed the child with abusive head trauma, a newer term for “shaken baby syndrome.”

The Greens never brought their child back to Carel.

An investigation is launched

The day after the Greens’ child was injured, officials with the Cole County Children’s Division contacted the Jefferson City Police Department. The next day, Sept. 29, Detective Mark Edwards and Jennifer Berhorst, an employee with the Cole County Children’s Division, went to Carel’s home and were welcomed inside.

According to police reports, Carel never asked why they were at the home.

As investigators walked through the home, they noted there were five children present and the home appeared to be neat and in order.

But Edwards did note one unusual finding during the inspection: there were seven cribs in one bedroom.

Under state law, an unlicensed child care provider can provide care for no more than four unrelated children.

When Edwards asked Carel about the number of cribs, she said she “liked having them because it makes it seem full when interviewing potential parents looking at her day care.”

When asked about the injury to the Greens’ child, Carel told Edwards she was feeding the infant when she attempted to burp the child. Carel said she turned the child over and felt something was wrong.

The baby, Carel told Edwards, “didn’t look kosher.”

The baby looked tired and was pale, she said. Carel said the child had not eaten as much as usual, but she thought everything was normal.

In the following days, police interviewed Carel several times, as well as her ex-husband and her oldest daughter, who was 13 at the time.

In the second interview, which was conducted at the police department, Carel’s story began to change.

In that interview, she said some of the younger children had been in the room where the Greens’ child was. She told police she had left the children alone and went to the restroom before the Greens’ child was injured. She noted an overhead toy had been moved when she returned to the room and said that was when “something” must have happened.

“Carel stated she didn’t know if the children could have done something to (the child) by accident,” the police report reads.

She told police she called 911 an hour after she saw the children leave the room where the Greens’ child was.

The transcript of that 911 call shows the conversation appeared to be normal until Carel was placed on hold during the third minute of the call. When on hold, Carel can be heard saying: “(Child’s name), what’s wrong honey ... Did I do something on accident?”

When police asked about the inconsistencies in her story, Carel didn’t respond, the report notes.

Findings of investigation

When the investigation by police and the Department of Health and Senior Services was completed Sept. 30, it found that Carel had been caring for more than six unrelated children. Lisa Ivy, a child care facility specialist with the state agency, sent a letter to Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson on Oct. 21, 2011, encouraging him to prosecute Carel for having too many children in her care. The letter also detailed past complaints about having too many children in her care. Berhorst, the employee investigating for the Cole County Children’s Division, noted in her report Carel was the alleged perpetrator of a “possible shaken baby in her care.” The state agency sent letters to parents who Carel had listed as having children in her care. The form letter noted Carel had too many children in her care and stated the statute that prohibits the practice. But not all of the parents who had children in Carel’s care received the letter. Kerensia Moore, who had two children attending Carel’s day care, never received the letter. Nine months later, Moore would find herself in a situation eerily similar to the Greens’.

A second child is injured

Moore had been a parent at Carel’s day care for about a year. Her oldest son, Michael, began staying at Carel’s home in July 2011.

About 10:30 a.m. on June 25 of this year, Moore left Michael, then 14 months old, as well as his then 3-month-old brother, Hunter, at Carel’s home so that Moore, a college student, could return home to study.

About four hours later, Moore got a frantic call from Carel, who said there was something wrong with Hunter.

Moore said Carel wouldn’t say what was wrong with the 3-month-old; she just kept saying that she needed a second opinion.

“I got in my car and went to get my child,” Moore said.

When Moore arrived at the home, Carel was sitting on the steps, rocking Hunter and trying to feed him. All of the other children, Moore said, were downstairs and were “screaming and yelling and were unsupervised at the time.”

Moore said Carel told her she had placed Hunter in his car seat on top of a bar area. Moore said Carel said she had left Hunter to fix a bottle and that he got out of the car seat and fell, hitting his head on the tile floor.

Moore then left with Hunter, taking him to the emergency room.

Her mother-in-law went to Carel’s home a short time later and removed Michael and all of the children’s things. They never returned to Carel’s home.

Later, doctors told Moore the child’s injuries did not support the claim of a fall, though they did not say what may have caused the injuries.

Hunter spent two days in the hospital and was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. He now is at home, but Moore said they are unsure if he suffered any long-term damage.

On June 26, Randy Eicholz, child care specialist for DHSS, made an unannounced visit to Carel’s home and then filed a 3 1/2-page report that details calls he made to parents to confirm if their child was in Carel’s home on the day of the second incident.

Eicholz also sent a letter to parents, detailing that Carel again was in violation of state law.

The report also contained notes from a July 3 visit to the home where he noted three nonrelated children and one related child were in her care.

Carel told Eicholz, according to his notes, that she no longer would be caring for children at her home after July 13, as she had accepted employment outside of her home.

Police reports on the Moore case are not yet available, as it is an open investigation.

On July 12, the state agency sent a letter to Richardson, requesting prosecution.

That letter details the previous complaints sent to the prosecutor’s office and states Carel allegedly had seven children in her care on June 25, the day Moore’s son was injured.

A series of investigations

Green said she was devastated when she heard of Hunter’s injuries, because she wished she could have done more to get Carel charged. “I was disgusted and appalled to hear of another incident,” Green said. “I feel like I tried everything possible to stop this from happening again.” But the investigations into the day care existed years before the injuries to the Greens’ and Moores’ children. In late 2007 and early 2008, the state Department of Health and Senior Services investigated Carel’s day care, finding she had too many children in her care. One report said she had nine children in her care; other reports noted she had children hiding in rooms from investigators. In a Jan. 3, 2008, report by the state agency, Carel is reported as saying one of the children in her care was a niece and another was a nephew. State investigators noted the same children were listed on previous attendance sheets, but they weren’t noted as Carel’s family members. Investigators called the parents of the two children, who said they were not related to Carel. DHSS files show that in 2007 and 2008 they referred Carel for prosecution for having too many children in her care.

Family frustrated by system

Green said she and her family have spent months working with local and state officials, “hoping” the system would handle the situation. She said she has been in regular contact with the police detective, who kept her updated.

“The detective was good about keeping me in the loop, and then it was later turned into the prosecuting attorney,” Green said. “We have had a meeting with the prosecuting attorney and his staff, and meetings and phone calls with staff members.”

But Green says the manner in which the case has been dealt with by prosecutors has been frustrating and upsetting.

Green says she’s felt as though she was pushed aside when calling and that her daughter’s case was not a priority for the prosecutor’s office. At one time, she said, an assistant prosecuting attorney told her during a phone call, “Your daughter’s case is on my to-do list.”

In a letter dated June 26 — the day after Moore’s 3-month-old was injured — the Green family received a letter from Richardson’s office saying they did not believe they had enough information to take the Greens’ case to a judge.

The Green family has since filed a civil lawsuit against Carel.

A hearing in that case is set for Oct. 21 before Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Pat Joyce.

Feelings of powerlessness

Much of the frustration expressed by Moore and Green in these cases stems from a feeling that officials with local and state agencies are unable — or unwilling — to shut down or even penalize the unlicensed day care.

Police do not step in and handle complaints about non-licensed day cares unless there is an alleged crime such as neglect or abuse, said Cpt. Doug Shoemaker with the Jefferson City Police Department.

Gena Terlizzi, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said they do send an employee to a facility when a complaint is made about a provider having too many children in the day care. If the claims are substantiated, she said, the state agency begins a process that includes sending letters to parents to notify them the provider is operating illegally.

They also refer cases to the prosecutor.

As long as the protocol is followed, she said, a provider could violate the law daily, and the department could do nothing besides refer cases to the prosecutor.

Officials with the state Department of Social Services declined to comment for this story, saying they did not comment on specific cases. But spokeswoman Rebecca Woelfel said the department encourages those who suspect child abuse or neglect to call the agency’s toll-free hotline, 800-392-3738.

The hotline is answered 24 hours a day, year-round, she said.

Richardson, the county prosecutor, declined to comment about the instances in which Carel is alleged to have had too many children under her care, saying he couldn’t comment on specific cases.

He did say his office works with those “infractions to help those people wanting to run a day care to comply with the law.” He added: “In those cases, we work to bring the person to compliance.” Richardson said his office is still working with the police department as it gathers the medical records in the Moores’ case. “We are not doctors, and we rely on the medical records from doctors to tell us the extent of the injuries,” he said. “That is what we are waiting on now, for those medical records.” The Green and Moore families have launched a social media campaign in hopes of drawing public support for prosecution of the cases. Their Facebook page has grown to nearly 900 members, many of whom shared links and photos on their own pages, in hopes of “getting justice.” “I don’t want to see this happen again to another baby and another family,” Green said.

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