February 27

Ex-DHHS inspectors say Maine managers ignored child abuse

State officials disagree and say improvements are coming.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Two former state child care inspectors say managers in the Department of Health and Human Services knew about abuse and neglect at day cares but often did nothing, letting staff reports on abuse languish on their desks for months or years and harassing inspectors who pressed for more action.

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Nicole White, a former employee of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who inspected daycare centers, says that there was a culture of intimidation from managers at DHHS.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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“These were not isolated cases. It was universal,” said Nicole White, a former inspector.

In one case, White said, she wrote reports about a day care with numerous violations – including an incident in 2011 in which the day care refused to call an ambulance for a child who was bleeding profusely from a cut on the head that exposed the child’s skull – but her supervisor refused to shut it down.

White and a former co-worker, 20-year employee Charley LaFlamme, described a DHHS child care licensing division in which managers were reluctant to penalize the problem facilities. They told the Portland Press Herald this week that they were disciplined by the department in retaliation for pushing for better enforcement of state rules.

White and LaFlamme are cooperating with the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which may pursue an investigation of the child care division. Their claims were corroborated, at least in one case, by DHHS documents, a parent and a former day care employee.

“The managers wouldn’t even look at reports for six to nine months. This was common,” LaFlamme said. “I thought we were there to protect the children. These (supervisors) are people who shouldn’t be in the business.”

The division’s director, Kenneth Albert, strongly objected Wednesday to the characterization of the managers, and said the public should be suspicious of the motives of ex-employees making “disparaging” comments.

“I disagree. I don’t even know what they’re talking about,” Albert said, referring to the allegations that reports languished on managers’ desks.

He said reforms are coming, including staffing increases for child care licensing, which has come under scrutiny since a high-profile abuse case at a day care center in Lyman became public in January.

“We are making significant headway,” he said.

Albert has said previously that the department fell short in the case of the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool in Lyman, but that doesn’t mean there are systemic problems.

IN LYMAN CASE, SLOW TO ACT ON ABUSE

In the case in Lyman, supervisors ignored findings of abuse for more than a year before taking action last fall, according to DHHS documents obtained Wednesday by the Press Herald.

An inspection report completed by a DHHS inspector on Aug. 23, 2013, refers to previous reports, including investigations in 2003 and 2010 and a May 2012 report that said Sunshine Child Care & Preschool had “numerous licensing violations,” including “physical abuse.” 

 

 

It’s not clear from the 2013 report whether the allegations from 2003 and 2010 were substantiated, but the report says they included accusations that children were hit and that pepper and soap were put in children’s mouths. 

Although the inspector who compiled the report in May 2012 concluded that the alleged abuse did occur, the state took no action for more than a year, according to the report filed in August.

Cheryl Dubois, a co-owner of the day care center, declined comment when contacted Wednesday by the Press Herald. Her husband, Daniel Dubois, has denied the accusations, calling them a “witch hunt.”

The couple closed their day care center in January, after the accusations became public and parents started withdrawing their children.

All reports from child care inspectors go to DHHS managers, who decide whether to revoke day care licenses, issue conditional licenses or do nothing. A conditional license is similar to probation; any day care that has one must meet certain criteria or risk losing its license.

(Continued on page 2)

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