DAYCARE DANGERS: How to prevent your child from becoming a victim

Updated: May. 20, 2019 at 5:00 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Is your child taken care of at daycare? It’s a question all parents hope is an obvious answer, but that hasn’t been the case for some in South Sarasota County.

"This is very nerve-wracking, like I’m shaking right now nerve-wracking,” one Venice parent says as she learns what happened at her daughter’s daycare.

A video released from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office shows daycare worker, Jamie Smithmyer, being very aggressive with some of the young children at the Manasota Beach Early Learning Center in South Venice. The 26-year-old has since been arrested and charged with three counts of child abuse.

Another horrific incident happened at another facility in South County – this time, in North Port. A mother claims her 10-month-old baby was burned while in the care of the Achievements Learning Center.

"It does appear to be an accident. However, an accident that could’ve been avoided. An accident that caused severe injury to an infant,” Mark Salameh, the attorney for the parents, tells ABC7.

The parents were told the baby was sitting on a high chair when he reached over to the counter and pulled down a crock-pot that was full of hot water. The child center is now under investigation

Salameh says he’s seeing a rise in potential dangers at daycares.

"Unfortunately, we’ve heard lately that there have been more instances, more accidents, like this. It’s very unfortunate. That’s why we’re on board to not only protect the interests of the child, but to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Salameh said.

Working parents can spend months looking for the right daycare, so officials are warning that before you check that enrollment box, make sure you check them out.

These recent instances have been caught on camera. It’s this technology that experts say is crucial to look for to keep a close eye on your child when you can’t do it in person.

“I didn’t have anyone to ask, and a lot of people in Florida are like that. We’re transplants from somewhere , and we may not have friends and family that we can ask for advice from,” Ana McClendon from the Early Learning Coalition for Sarasota County explained. “So when you’re a deer in headlights and a first time parent, and you’re trying to figure out what to do, we have created this guide for you that does all of the assessing.”

Digging for details about your child’s future daycare is thankfully getting a bit easier for Suncoast parents. Aside from being able to search violation histories on the Department of Children and Families’ website, the Early Learning Coalition for Sarasota County has created a “Look for the Stars” program.

"We’ve assessed about 70 percent of all Sarasota County child care centers into a 1 to 5 star rating, and the criteria ranges from health, safety, cleanliness, teacher to student ratio, it compromises a lot of pieces. Pretty much any question a parent could ask, we’ve done that for them,” McClendon said.

To be on this list, you must be in compliance with DCF’s regulations, but also agree to take it up a notch by accepting to be judged by all quality regulations that the ELC looks at. Their website outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each center, and gives parents an educated score. One being a low rating, and five being the best overall.

"It’s important to note that despite their rating, and it may have fallen, they are still committed to quality and amping it up and putting the work in, and making that commitment to raise their star level,” McClendon said.

The ELC says with these resources, “parents can help make the best decision for their families.”

"You are dropping off your child to be in the care of someone other than yourself, and it’s scary at the end of the day,” McClendon said, “They could be at the five-star pristine classroom, and they may not be in that environment, but it is tough for any parent.”

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