Former Shawnee daycare employees claim abuse, neglect, poor working conditions

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — Concerns at a Shawnee Daycare Center have some employees walking out.

Three former workers at Happy Tots Daycare Center say the state needs to step in. But the owner said the workers were unreliable, and like many businesses, they can’t keep employees.

One mom and former employee told FOX4 she saw an employee get rough with her child, and she knew she had to leave. Others said they couldn’t take care of that many kids at once.

For the past six months, these women said employees have been coming in and quitting like a revolving door.

“There was never enough help. Ever. A lot of times we would be by ourselves. Changing six or seven babies by yourself is a lot, or trying getting 10 or 11 toddlers to the bathroom at once is a lot,” Tori Decavele said.

The daycare was previously an in-home facility and moved into a larger location near K-7 and Johnson Drive. According to the state of Kansas, since January they’ve had five compliance checks at the center and four complaint investigations.

“Since I worked there, the state came twice in the past three months. That’s a problem,” former employee Tameia Bell said.

Bell said her toddler daughter, Charlie, attended Happy Tots when she started working there in July. On Sept. 9, Bell said she walked out when she saw an employee get rough with her daughter.

“I understand that you have to redirect them, but how she redirected my daughter, I was not OK with it. She grabbed her by her shoulder and slammed her to the ground. Then as soon as she started crying kind of like a panic attack, she slammed her again,” Bell said.

All three women said they’ve seen this employee be rough with children, but the worker still employed with the daycare.

Angel Martin said she was hired in mid-August and quickly felt helpless in a room full of babies screaming and crying without enough hands. She was only allowed to take care of three at a time.

“I had five infants by myself. I was the only teacher. I needed help. I didn’t get the help I really needed. There was nothing I could do,” Martin said.

Decavele said the owner tried to get her to work when she was sick. She said the first day she came down with the bug she had a 103-degree fever, but her employer kept calling her to come in.

“The first day I just didn’t go in and I had to shut off my phone because she messaged me so many times. The second day I went in, and I said I still didn’t feel well and when she got in, I threw up four times and she told me to go get COVID tested and come back,” Decavele said.

“She returned the next day for work, was checked for a fever at the daycare, and her temperature was 99F.  There was never any evidence given by the employee that she had a 103 temperature, but she stayed home that day as a precaution, as the safety of the children is of the utmost importance.   We do not allow employees with a fever to work at the daycare, nor do we allow children with fevers to remain in the daycare on a given day.”

Happy Tots Daycare Center

They also claim Decavele reported them to the state on a Friday and then intentionally didn’t show up to work on a Monday to create a ratio issue. Decavele disputed this.

The owners of Happy Tots turned down an interview for this story but provided a statement.

“The daycare industry, like every other industry right now, is suffering from severe shortages of qualified employees.  Our daycare is no exception to that.  We have asked some employees to work extra hours, in order to assist with keeping our KDHE required teacher to child ratios and pay them overtime for their work.”

Happy Tots Daycare Center

They also said there is “no evidence” of employees yelling at children or diapers going unchanged. They also said they’ve staid in ratio. However, in May the state of Kansas says they found nine infants in a room that should hold only six. In March, there were five in a room that should have three.

“You do everything to protect your child and you work in there and see it with your own eyes,” Bell said.

In the state of Kansas, compliance investigations they reported two concerning incidents at the daycare in the past year.

In January, an inspector found through video footage a staff member grabbed a child’s hair pulling their hair back and called them a brat. The staff member then allegedly walked up to a child and inches away from their face used a “frightening tone” to tell the child “you hear me, you’re going to lay in your cot” while the child cried.

In May, the state says a staff member “did not demonstrate sound judgement and understanding of children” when they allegedly to the child’s mother who also worked at the facility that their child is a “dick.”

“Like nearly every other daycare facility, we are hurting for employees/teachers. However safety of the children comes first and we do not compromise that.”

Happy Tots Daycare Center

Happy Tots claims many of their recent employees have left without notice or warning. All three women say they put in their notice before they left. Bell says she did not return to work after witnessing her daughter being slammed to the ground.

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