As a Virginia Beach-based personal injury and wrongful death attorney, I primary help victims of workplace accidents and car crashes. My specialty is actually railroad safety, in particular representing individuals who contract life-threatening diseases from on-the-job exposure to chemicals and cancer-causing materials like asbestos.
So why am I writing about child day care? First, because I am a parent with a working spouse. My wife and I know how difficult choosing a day care center can be. Cost is always a concern, regardless of one’s income, but safety is always paramount. We opted for a state-licensed day care, trusting that requirements for equipment like smoke detectors and electrical outlet covers, mandatory first-aid training and regular visits from state inspectors could limit dangers to our kids’ health.
Second, evidence that the Commonwealth of Virginia is not doing enough to ensure every parent can enjoy the same peace of mind continues to mount. In August 2014, the Washington Post published findings from a lengthy investigation into the state of child day care in the Old Dominion. The most-shocking news was that more than 40 children have lost their lives in unlicensed, primarily home-based day cares since 2003. Fatal accidents occurred near my own neighborhood in Virginia Beach, and in Roanoke. Babies only a few months old and elementary schoolers died in the far west of the state and in the Washington, DC, suburbs. Causes of death ranged from drownings to suffocation to internal injuries due to physical abuse.
This October, two more youngsters died while in the care of two different unlicensed day care operators. The most recent of these fatalities occurred in Midlothian, outside of Richmond, when a fire broke out in a home where eight kids were being looked after. The woman minding the children got seven of her charges out to the street, but she forgot about a 1-year-old who was napping upstairs and out of sight. By the time firefighters discovered the toddler after successfully putting out the flames, the baby too young to crawl had suffered deadly burns.
Virginia law requires any day care business taking in more than five children to qualify for a license. As the tragedy in Midlothian shows, however, many business operators ignore that rule. Not every home-based day care is unsafe, but without licensing, training and inspections, there is no way to know that all protections are in place.
The Washington Post estimated that some 200,000 children spend part of each weekday in a day care setting that has never been visited by a Virginia safety official. That is unacceptable. Even when no injuries or deaths occur, the risks remain too high to ignore.