Melissa Russo reports.
City officials announced Thursday they’re exploring citywide safety enhancements in child care in response to the death of a Staten Island infant last March. NBC New York first reported neglect findings against the child care workers supervising the baby, Jeremy Davila.
Jeremy’s heartbroken mother Jeanette offered tearful testimony at a City Council hearing Thursday that was called in response to the NBC New York investigation.
“Tomorrow is Jeremy's first birthday, 11/11/11,” she said. “I should be planning his first birthday, not visiting my baby in the cemetery.”
There was barely a dry eye in the hearing room as Davila told councilmembers about the painful seven months that have passed since her son was discovered blue and lifeless at the Kiddie Academy Day Care on Staten Island.
“I was at work, I was far away from Staten Island, the day care facility I’d entrusted to care for my infant son,” Davila testified. "I raced to the hospital, and there I saw what no mother should ever see. I saw my husband, Oscar, standing by my lifeless baby boy."
City officials found that two Kiddie Academy workers had failed to check on Jeremy for several hours on the day he died, according to an NBC New York investigation. The workers later said the baby had been crying and “not feeling well,” but Davila said they never called her.
Despite findings of “inadequate guardianship” by the Administration for Children’s Services, the workers kept their jobs. And parents of other children at Kiddie Academy had no way of knowing about the neglect findings because child neglect investigations are kept confidential under New York State law.
Officials with the Department of Health testified they are considering a change in the city health code to require that child care workers physically check sleeping babies every 15 minutes.
“While such a process might not prevent the death of a child who stops breathing, it would add an additional layer of oversight to infant toddler programs,” said Daniel Kass, deputy commissioner for environmental health.
Councilmembers also demanded that parents be notified when workers at a day care are found to have neglected a child.
“It is a parent's right to know,” said Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, who chairs the council’s health committee.
Representatives from ACS said the law prevents the agency from telling the other parents in that facility.
“Can Department of Health tell the parents? Can anyone tell the parents?” Arroyo asked. The answer was no.
Another issue: Health Department officials testified the two workers responsible for Jeremy were “distraught” and therefore were unable to administer CPR after he was discovered in his crib, cold and not breathing.
Councilmembers said this was “unacceptable.” The health officials agreed, saying they are now exploring better emergency training for child care workers.
The exact cause of Jeremy's death is unknown. However, the medical examiner determined it was natural causes, not foul play and not sudden infant death syndrome.
The Davilas can’t help but wonder if the workers might have been able to save Jeremy had they checked on him sooner and found him in trouble, before it was too late.
The two Kiddie Academy workers have appealed the finding of inadequate guardianship. They insist they played no role in Jeremy's death and await a hearing.
In a statement Thursday, Kiddie Academy reiterated that both workers were trained in CPR and first aid. The statement did not address why a parent at the center apparently administered CPR instead of their workers. The statement also said "both infant caregivers routinely checked on Jeremy and all the children, as they always do."
Although it’s been a painful time, Jeanette Davila says after many months of getting a runaround, she feels grateful that some of her many questions are finally being addressed. She hopes perhaps the lessons of Jeremy’s story will help prevent another mother from the devastation she’s experienced.
“It’s a little late too late, unfortunately, because Jeremy is not here, but I’m happy for all the other parents.”