13 Investigates state response to daycare abuse allegations

13 Investigates state response to daycare abuse allegations story image
STATEWIDE (WGME) - CBS 13 is getting answers for frustrated parents about the state's lack of transparency when it comes to investigations at daycares in Maine. Our investigation exposed abuse allegations at Sunshine Childcare and Preschool in Lyman. Parents who had children there say they had no idea the state was even investigating.

We've been looking into the inspection process since last June when we asked for all complaints about child care centers and daycares in our area. After waiting for five months, the state wouldn't tell us the locations where investigators found physical abuse, saying that information is confidential and not considered public information. A month later, parents came to us frustrated with the same thing.

"I don't want any parent to have to go through what I went through," Sara Bachelder told us.

Bachelder is a mom on a mission. She's been working with the state to change how the Department of Health and Human Services runs its Child Care Licensing Division.

"It shouldn't be so difficult to get information," Bachelder said.

Bachelder's two young children attended Sunshine starting back in 2009. Her son moved on to another school, but she didn't remove her daughter until 2-1/2 years later when former employee Caitlyn Wilson told her she was concerned about how the owner, Cheryl Dubois, was treating the kids.

"She yelled so loud in their face. I was startled," Wilson said.

Wilson and Bachelder went to DHHS to ask for an investigation in May 2012. When the investigation was done in June, DHHS followed up with a phone call.

"I was contacted after they wrapped up the investigation. I was told there were no findings. I cried," Bachelder said.

But CBS 13 obtained a letter DHHS sent Dubois in October of 2012 that says, "The Department is concerned about these allegations."

Allegations which include Cheryl and her staff call the children derogatory names, force them to eat and drink, hit them, and grab their hair. DHHS took no licensing action and parents continued to send their kids to Sunshine.

DHHS Director of Licensing Ken Albert said a number of things are changing. He said going forward, any time there's an allegation of abuse, parents will be told about it.

"As a policy perspective, we believe parents have a right to that, and I believe now we have the statutory authority to release information to parents," Albert said.

Albert said complaint reports like the one sent to Sunshine by the state in August 2013 will be available to parents. It found "...this childcare creates a toxic and unsafe environment" and that the owner Cheryl Dubois had been "abusive, humiliating, and intimidating" to the children.

Parents didn't find out about this one until December, 4 months after the report was finished. DHHS says it will now give parents inspection and complaint reports as soon as they're done. Albert is also looking into putting the reports online. Our research found 31 states already do, including New Hampshire. We went to Concord to see how it works.

It went online back in 2006 after a daycare worker in Nashua was charged and later admitted to molesting a dozen children at the Circle of Learning daycare.

"We wanted more transparency to our inspection process so we developed the new database," DHHS NH Licensing Manager John Martin said.

An online search turns up a full licensing history with reports that parents can easily download and review.

Maine DHHS says it's found grant funding to help develop the website. It's hoping to have it online within a year.

As we've reported, Sunshine shut down the day after our story aired. Cheryl Dubois and her husband have turned down our multiple requests for interviews but insist the allegations are not true.13 Investigates state response to daycare abuse allegations
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