At the hospital, Lafkin pleaded with the doctors to not give up. “I screamed, ‘You can’t stop!’ ” she remembers. “ ‘You have to keep trying!’ ”
But at 12:27 p.m., they called Camden Lafkin’s death. She was 13 weeks and two days old.
The caregiver and Camden’s cause of death are under investigation, according to local Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst. Lafkin said she was told by investigators that marijuana and methamphetamines were found in the caregiver’s home. Lafkin has since paid for a thorough background search using the caregiver’s Social Security number and found five other names with a host of civil and criminal charges, including a felony charge for embezzlement. Court records show a number of violations on her five-year probation.
But before Camden’s death, there was no way for Lafkin to have known. In a state that is often reluctant to impose rules on small businesses, the caregiver was operating an unlicensed, unregulated, unmonitored and perfectly legal family day care.
Virginia is one of only eight states in the nation that allow family providers to care for up to six unrelated children, as well as any number of their own children, without a license. Providers are not required to pass background checks or get training on health, safety, safe sleeping practices or child development. No one inspects their sites for safety or quality.
The standards are so low that Alexandria and Fairfax and Arlington counties have imposed stricter rules of their own. All three jurisdictions require a license, permit or registration that includes background checks, fire-safety inspections and CPR and first-aid training.
But parents in the rest of the state are largely on their own.
“We trusted this lady with our child,” Lafkin said. “We didn’t realize that sending your child to an unlicensed, unregistered provider meant throwing her to the wolves.”
About 400,000 children in Virginia — half of all children under 12 estimated to be in child care — are in unregulated settings, said Sharon Veatch, executive director of Child Care Aware of Virginia, an advocacy organization.
“A lot of them are the younger ones, because there are really limited spaces for infants and toddlers,” Veatch said. “Unregulated care doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. But we just don’t know. And we don’t know where they are, so we can’t reach out to provide support and information on even simple things, like how to baby-proof your home.”
Day-care deaths in Virginia are rare. But three of the four children who died from suspected abuse or neglect while in day care in fiscal 2011 were in unregulated settings, according to the state Department of Social Services.