A sexual predator at a daycare: Do your homework when choosing

Here in the Boston area, we’ve all been shaken by the news that a known sexual offender raped and molested children for years at a daycare just north of the city—even babies. It’s beyond horrible. For those with a child in daycare, this story is especially terrifying. You can’t help thinking: could this happen to my child?

Ultimately, the sad truth is that we can’t always stop these things from happening. That’s the thing about sexual predators like this guy: they are remarkably good at hiding what they do. They choose and groom their victims well. They seem like really nice people—so nice that the people around them either don’t suspect anything, or brush aside their suspicions.

There are, however, things that parents can do to help prevent sexual abuse—or any abuse—at daycare.

Do your homework when choosing a daycare. I mean really do your homework.

  • Make sure the daycare is licensed (the one where this happened wasn’t). Here in Massachusetts you can use the online database of the Department of Early Education and Care. You can also call the department to find out more about the history of the daycare. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Childcare and Early Education has a database with licensing and contact information for all fifty states.
  • Find out about every single person who might come in contact with your child (this is especially important at a family daycare, where it’s not just employees that are around). Ask about background checks. Anybody who is spending time with your child—especially if they will be alone with them—should have a background check.
  • Get references, Google the daycare, and otherwise try to find out what people know about it.
  • Visit when children are there. Spend some time, get a sense of the place, see all of it.
  • Ask detailed questions about how and where the children spend their day and who is with them at each moment.

This may seem like going overboard, and you might feel rude doing it. Who cares? This is about your child’s safety. If there is anything at all that doesn’t seem right to you, don’t send your child there.

Keep doing your homework. Once we’ve made a choice, it’s human nature to want to believe that we were right. But sometimes we aren’t—and sometimes things change. So keep your antennae up. Keep asking questions, especially if you notice a new person or a change in routine. Definitely ask questions if something odd happens, like your child’s clothes have been changed or there is an unexplained bruise or scratch. Get to know the other parents, and keep in touch with them; if someone leaves the daycare, call them and ask why. Make unannounced visits.

Pay close attention to your child. This is probably the most important thing. Ask lots of questions about their day (without being too interrogatory—you’ll scare them). Talk to them about who they spent time with and what they did. If something bad happens they might not tell you—they might not understand it, or they might have been told to keep it a secret—but if you are paying close enough attention, you’ll notice something different about their behavior, such as sadness, anger, fear or withdrawal. Those behaviors can happen for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with being hurt at daycare, but any change in behavior should be a reason to ask more questions and get those antennae up even more.

To make it more likely that your child will tell you if something happens, you should:

  • Talk to your child often. Make it something that you both feel comfortable doing.
  • Make sure your child knows the names of his or her body parts (the real names)—and make it clear which parts are private, not to be seen or touched by anyone.
  • Teach your child that no grownup should ever ask them to keep a secret—and if one does, they should come and tell you. (Which may mean that you’ll find out about a birthday present before you were supposed to—an added benefit.)

The good news is that most of the people you and your child will ever meet are good people, not bad people.  It’s really unlikely that there will be a sexual predator (or anyone else who might hurt your child) at daycare. Just remember to be alert, and a little suspicious always. The world may overall be a good place (I truly believe it is), but it’s always best to be careful and watchful. Especially when our children’s safety is involved.

Claire McCarthy is a primary care physician and the medical director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Martha Eliot Health Center.  She blogs at Thriving, the Boston Children’s Hospital blog, Vector, the Boston Children’s Hospital science and clinical innovation blog, and MD Mama at Boston.com.

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  • Diana A.

    Unfortunately, in Indiana, the law is that church related daycare centers do not have to be licensed or follow the good standards set for daycare centers that ARE licensed and NOT affiliated with a church. Being unlicensed means cheaper costs, and cheaper costs mean less safety for the children. But can you blame many single mothers for trying to stretch their $$$ as far as possible today? Unfortunately, children in Indy have DIED in these unlicensed daycare centers, & just a few months ago it was in the local paper about children being sexually abused at an unlicensed center. The laws have got to change. Unlicensed daycare centers affiliated with churches should be forced by law to follow the standards that have protected kids in licensed centers for years or closed down for good.

  • Suzi Q 38

    Since I survived abduction by a man that was also a sexual predator (at the age of about 7 or 8), I was only too careful with my children. The police at the time interviewed me at length because they were incredulous that I had the strength to do what I did. Truth be told, my mother let me walk home alone, in a bad part of town, after a dance lesson. Suffice to say that when children are young, they are no match for these heinous and brazen adults, both mentally and physically.

    When my children were young, I chose to only work part-time, and carefully screened any day care situations. For the majority of the time, my parents did most of the work when I had to work. I also had minimal daycare two mornings a week at the local christian church. I would make my sales calls in the mornings, pick my children up at noon and feed them lunch, then take them over to my mothers for a nap.

    I was lucky, but unfortunately pharmaceutical jobs like these quickly saw their “day.”

    I would not allow our kids to be altar helpers at the Catholic Church.

    At school, or any other events that had adults, I would question my children casually and come to that event unannounced.

    I helped in both our children’s classrooms.

    When they were in sports, I was very visible, and made sure that no child was alone with the coaches.

    The one time it did happen, we were on an out of town volleyball tournament in California. my daughter and her friends were about 13 or 14. They had a “blast,” playing games against young players their ages from all over the U.S. and Europe.
    I was in charge of 3 girls, including my daughter. I left briefly for laundry duty. When returned, “Krista” was gone. I frantically looked for her, but no one knew where she was. I almost panicked.

    I finally found her in an upstairs hotel room alone with one of the 20 something coaches. She was safe, and calmly playing cards alone with him. Forgetting my manners, I yelled at her for leaving me and not letting me know where she was. I also looked the coach in the eye, got in his FACE and said: “Are YOU nuts?? When is it O.K. for you, the coach to be spending time with a female player alone in a hotel room??? Don’t you EVER do that again!!!”
    With that, I took the child back to our hotel room. I prayed that nothing had happened, and I asked her to tell me if anything did.

    Well, word got around, and the other parents were angry with what I had done. I didn’t care. My job was to protect and care for “the girls.” They said that I had overacted and I needed to apologize. I refused.

    I went one step further. I reported the incident and coach to the club director.

    Consequently, our daughter was not chosen for his team, and she was the better player than the one he chose. I knew why, but didn’t care, as she was not ultimately going to be a professional volleyball player.
    I knew he couldn’t handle that I was “on to him.”

    I was not surprised 5 years later. That very coach was arrested for lewd acts and sexual misconduct with underage girls. There were so many girls that came forward that he had to serve the sentences back to back.

    He may never get out of prison.

    My point is that it is not just the daycares.

  • bill10526

    There are too many cases of hysteria. The Sandusky case in Penn State is a classic example. One young man, Mr. Fisher, complained to school authorities that Jerry Sandusky had molested him. That was while the guy was being treated by a self-proclaimed psychiatrist and after Jerry Sandusky’s book “Touched” was published. Those who knew the young man well did not believe him. Somebody took it upon themselves to drum up sordid stories to back up Fisher’s claims. And they did. 8 accusers testified against Sandusky although they never said anything before the pressure from the investigators. A total of 58 or so claims have been made for payments from Penn State. NONE of the follows ever told on Sandusky over the years of their molestations. That is preposterous. Examples of community madness abound. And anyone who looks at the Priest Scandal carefully as I have, would conclude that it was all a hoax.

    The problem is that people will not set aside visceral reactions to ask: “Does that make sense?” For example, all of Sandusky accusers said they retained expensive lawyers to help with media. Another example was the fellow who spent an afternoon with Dottie and Jerry Sandusky to show off his little family and then testified against Jerry.