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Incident at YMCA Child Watch involving her son angers North Stonington mother

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published March 09. 2014 4:00AM   Updated March 09. 2014 10:40AM
Son's treatment has woman calling for child-care changes

A North Stonington woman is seeking a change in Connecticut and Rhode Island child care law after she said a employee at the Westerly-Pawcatuck branch of the Ocean Community YMCA held a door closed from the outside and would not let her 2-year-old son out of a bathroom.

Kimberly Burns has collected more than 950 signatures on her petition at www.change.org that calls on officials from both states to implement oversight of baby-sitting facilities such as the YMCA's Child Watch, which supervises children for up to two hours while their parents exercise.

Call for regulations

She said Rhode Island officials told her they have no jurisdiction over such programs and it is up to the facilities to establish their own regulations and procedures.

"I had the assumption there was state oversight. I think a lot of parents have the same assumption," said Burns. "They should be regulated like other day care facilities."

Kevin Savage, the administrator for licensing and regulation for the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, said his agency does not license or regulate baby-sitting services in which the parents are on site, such as at gyms or churches.

Connecticut state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, chairwoman of the legislature's Select Committee on Children, said Burns contacted her after the incident.

Urban said she didn't think any new law was needed in Connecticut because a complaint such as the one lodged by Burns would trigger an investigation by the state department of Children and Families regardless of the setting in which it occurred. She said state law gives DCF latitude to investigate any incident that involves the welfare of a child.

Burns said that on the morning of Feb. 22, her son was in the care of Child Watch staff while she took a class in one of the YMCA studios. The boy had a potty training accident and took off his wet pants in the presence of the other children.

She said a staff member then put her son in the bathroom and closed the door, holding it shut from the outside while another staff member went to get Burns from the class. When she arrived, she said her son was screaming and crying and the staff member was holding the door shut.

"You don't shut a 2-year-old alone in a bathroom and let him scream," she said. "I understand he was walking around naked, but there was a better way to do this."

Maureen Fitzgerald, the YMCA's president and CEO, said YMCA officials investigated the incident and found the door was kept ajar so a Child Watch staff member could keep an eye on the boy while another staffer went to get Burns.

Burns later contacted the Westerly police, who she said told her the incident did not rise to the level of child abuse. They suggested she contact the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, which she did.

That's when she learned that the agency had no oversight over operations and that the facilities can make their own policies.

Fitzgerald said YMCA policies and procedures prohibit Child Watch staffers from changing diapers or being alone with a child in a bathroom. She said all Child Watch employees undergo background checks, CPR and first-aid training and take online courses on how to recognize and address child abuse.

"Child safety is first and foremost for us. That's why we have these policies and procedures in place," she said.

Fitzgerald pointed out that Child Watch is a baby-sitting service and different than the after-school and summer child care services the YMCA offers. Those are licensed and regulated by the state.

Savage said he does not see any need for licensing or oversight of baby-sitting services at this point and questioned the impact such a change would have on the services.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Click here to see the petition.

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