A September 17, 2016 article in The State recounting a 1993 daycare murder case that shook Columbia reports that while officials now keep a sharper eye on daycare facilities, it’s still not enough.
The 1993 case centered on Gail Cutro, who ran a daycare out of her home with her husband. It involved the seemingly unexplained deaths of two babies and injury to a third—all of whom were around four months old.
The evidence highlighted a bizarre condition authorities charged led Cutro to kill the infants, called Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy. It causes caretakers—usually women—to abuse children to draw sympathy to themselves.
Sadly, it also brought out the difficulty in investigating daycare deaths, as trauma manifests differently in young children. In fact, some lethal injuries can only be detected at the microscopic level by experts trained to look for them.
The case lasted six years. After three trials and at least one appeal to the State Supreme Court, a jury convicted Cutro for the deaths. The judge sentenced her to life.
Fallout and Fixes
The case exposed gaping holes in child death investigations and daycare safety regulations, especially for home daycares:
- Then, DSS couldn’t enter a home daycare without a complaint filed against it. This kept investigators from discovering Cutro kept more than the home daycare legal limit of six children. Now, DSS can make unannounced inspections.
- Then, at DSS, the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Almost no communication existed between DSS abuse case workers and daycare regulators. That’s now improved.
- State training requirements for operators has been shockingly low. Only this spring, the state increased mandatory training for operators from two hours to 10 hours.
- Since the case, the state has almost quadrupled the number of daycare inspectors, from 17 to 54.
- Then, the state required no criminal background checks for home daycare workers. They’re now required for all over the age of 15 who live or work there.
- Then, child death investigations were still in their infancy. SLED had just formed its Child Fatalities Division. Doctors were quick to diagnose unexplained infant deaths as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Now our state has eight certified child abuse pediatricians. And coroners are trained to spot suspicious deaths. According to an Upstate prosecutor, ER doctors are more vigilant for signs of abuse.
Despite these advances, advocates describe them occurring at a “snail’s pace.” Coroners remain lax in reporting child deaths. A recent state audit revealed 150 unreported deaths through 2014. The state provides little public information to help parents find safe daycares. Background checks remain limited to state charges. FBI fingerprint checks could catch operators who get sanctioned in other states, but come here under the radar.
Parents can never give away their responsibility to personally make sure their child’s daycare is a safe place. But it doesn’t always protect your child from a slick sales job that hides what goes on behind the scenes after you walk out the door, or even a caretaker’s momentary lapse of judgment or concentration that can spell disaster for your child.
Because the criminal law and DSS can’t do it all, one way parents of injured children can hold careless daycares accountable for their child’s injuries is the civil justice system. If your child gets seriously hurt in a daycare accident, it’s unlikely a criminal sentence will result in payment of medical bills. And sometimes there’s just not enough evidence to justify criminal charges—but that doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to find out how it happened and hopefully play a role in making sure it doesn’t happen again, plus secure financial compensation that can pay enormous medical bills and declare everything your child lost from his injury has a value.
Our civil justice system is another way to show children’s lives matter. If you feel your child got hurt in a daycare accident, you can start a live chat right where you are to arrange a free strategy session for us to hear your story and talk about what we can do to help your child.