In Maryland, where caregivers who care for even one unrelated child must be licensed, the overall fatality rate in day-care settings is comparable to Virginia’s, according to data compiled by officials at the request of The Post. In the District, officials said they have kept no statistics on day-care deaths.
This year, new federal rules will force Virginia and all other states to increase oversight of providers who receive federal subsidies, which are available to licensed and unlicensed providers. About 1,300 unlicensed providers in Virginia received subsidies last year, records show. But the vast majority of the unregulated — estimated to be in the thousands — will remain off the radar.
In Virginia, the unregulated are expected to police themselves on the one and only rule that applies to them: the five-child limit. At least seven of the deaths in the Post study were at homes with more children than the providers could legally watch.
On March 8, 2012, police in Prince William County found 23 children at the unregulated Little Angels of the World in Bristow after caretakers called 911 to report a dying infant, 10-week-old Teagan Sample. Police saw toddlers wandering the halls, babies sitting on couches and infants in cribs.
“It was almost like a child-care factory. They were trying to fit as many kids in there as they could,” said Paul Ebert, the commonwealth’s attorney for Prince William. “That child may very well be alive had there not been so many children there.”
Teagan was found in one of the 10 cribs that filled a windowless basement room of the 3,400-square-foot residence. Rescue personnel said she was cold. Two caregivers said they had been checking on her regularly.
The medical examiner could not find a cause for Teagan’s death and classified it as undetermined. Prosecutors said the autopsy revealed “that asphyxiation was a possible cause of death.”
One of the Little Angels owners, Rocio Del Pilar Chavez Pacheco, claimed on a Web site that her day care was “state licensed” and “met or exceeded all health and safety guidelines.” But prosecutors alleged in court that the operation was “unlicensed, understaffed, and illicitly operated.” Pacheco and her husband, Joan Carlo Barra, were not there the day Teagan died.
Pacheco, 39, was convicted of felony counts of obtaining money by false pretenses and child neglect. Barra, 40, was convicted of misdemeanor charges of operating an unlicensed day-care center. Both received suspended sentences and probation. Neither agreed to an interview.
Prosecutors also charged the two women who had cared for Teagan. “With only two day-care workers, our point was these children were not even getting the minimal care,” said Sandra Sylvester, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Prince William who prosecuted the case.
But the judge dismissed the case against one of the caretakers after her attorney argued that Pacheco and Barra were to blame. Prosecutors then dropped the second case.
The caregivers had complained to the owners that they had too many children, prosecutors said.
Some parents were angry at the prosecutors. “They said they got great care and couldn’t imagine why we’d shut them down,” Sylvester said.
‘I lost it’
Ten of the children who died in unregulated settings had signs of physical abuse, including broken bones, brain injuries and internal bleeding. No abuse fatalities were found in licensed homes during the time of the Post study.
Several of the caregivers admitted to acting out of frustration.
In Virginia Beach, Brenda Kay Garner was paid $100 a week by a neighbor to watch 2-year-old Garrett King.