Infant deaths, dangers: Some day cares fail to follow safe-sleep guidelines


SEATTLE -- Three parents, three babies who died.  All tragedies that happened at licensed day cares in Washington.

Michele Frank's 18-month-old baby girl, Jaclyn, died after being left unattended in a crib in a closed bedroom.

Jaclyn stood up, and reached out for a blinds cord hanging from a nearby closet. She became entangled in the cord and strangled.

In Kyle and Amanda Uphold's case, their day care provider swaddled their 5-month-old daughter, Eve, put her to sleep in a portable crib with loose bedding, and left the room for more than an hour.  During her nap, eve rolled over and suffocated.

“There has to be some sort of real consequence and with our provider there was no real consequence for years and years.  She didn’t take it seriously,” said Kyle Uphold.

Then there is Aileen Carrell.  Her 3-½-month-old baby girl, Lucy, also died of SIDS on her first day at day care after the provider put her to sleep on her tummy.

“It seems to be a disregard for human life,” said Carrell.

In the case of Rhonda Hopson, the day care provider for the Uphold family, we found Eve wasn’t the only baby to die in her care.  A 6-month-old boy named Graham Hazzard died of SIDS in her care in 2001.

For the next 12 years, Hopson racked up dozens of sleep-related safety violations, yet never lost her license to watch children.

State Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, recently convened a work group to study safe sleep in day care centers  and for in-home providers, to figure out how the Department of Early Learning (DEL) can better inspect for compliance and hold violators accountable.

“I asked them for written procedure, delineating what the consequences are and for having a clear process for what happens when someone is violating a safe sleep practice,” said Kagi.

The state lawmaker is concerned because more than half of all child deaths in day care are SIDS-related.  This past legislative session, Kagi sponsored a bill that would have revoked a day care provider’s license after a second sleep related safety violation, but the bill did not pass.

“We don’t have a 2 strikes and you’re out policy with any of our rules.  It’s very much on a case-by-case basis.  We want to work with providers and if they can change, we want to help them to do so,” said spokeswoman Amy Blondin.

Q13 FOX News Investigates requested the files of 20 day cares in Washington with the most violations, and found many were directly related to the way providers put babies to sleep.

At the Farias Child Care Center in Mattawa, inspectors found infants napping on sofas.  Another baby was left unattended sleeping on an adult bed in a back room.

At the same day care, there were crib mattresses that didn’t fit the frames with loose bedding, and heavy blankets used to cover infants when they slept.  All are risk factors for SIDS.  The DEL eventually revoked this center’s license after a long list of many violations.

“Safe sleep is really important. We know that babies die when it’s not followed,” said Krista Cossalter-Sandberg, with the Northwest Infant Survival and SIDS Alliance.

The SIDS Alliance has worked diligently to educate parents and day care providers about the risks.

“We say ABC -- alone on their back in a crib. There should be no toys, no pillows, no bumpers and they should be monitored,” said Cossalter-Sandberg.

Yet, our investigation showed many day care providers didn't follow those guidelines.  At one in-home day care in Everett, the provider told her assistants to put a fussy 8-month-old boy in a high chair and shut him inside a storage closet until he cried himself to sleep.

At other day care facilities we examined, inspectors found infants sleeping in bouncy seats and on their stomachs on the floor.

“One-third of all deaths in child care happen in the first week, and half of those are in the first day,” said Kagi.

When providers put babies to sleep in a position they’re not familiar with, the risk for SIDS skyrockets.  It’s important to talk with your day care provider and ask to show you where your baby will be sleeping and stress they put them to sleep on their back with no blankets or toys in the crib.

“I think it’s unacceptable.   I think there is a problem in our system for not holding people responsible who say they’re going to take care of other people’s children,” said Carrell.

While the state says it’s doing its best, parents who have suffered the ultimate loss feel more needs to be done to protect our most precious population.

Kagi says she plans to reintroduce legislation in January and pledges to continue to work with the Department of Early Learning to better protect kids in day care.  (Northwest Infant Survival & SIDS Alliance)