Working conditions, concern for children addressed by former directors of Shawnee daycare

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — Two former directors of Happy Tots Daycare Center say the center needs help, but the owners won’t put in the work.

Earlier this week, FOX4 reported on three former employees who alleged neglect and abuse. The owners of Happy Tots told FOX4 the women were unreliable, but the former directors are backing up their claims.

For Pam Gilpin and Alicia Gossett, Happy Tots was anything but.

“I’m sad it came to this,” Gossett said.

Both of the women held the same title at different times for the daycare. Glilpin was there from the end of 2020 to August. Gossett was there for only six days after Gilpin quit.

“I went home crying every day. I didn’t want to be there. I can only imagine how my teachers felt,” Gossett said.

Earlier this week, three former employees of the daycare spoke out saying they were overworked and understaffed, and that the children were affected the most.

“I was sad that they felt like that, and they were both very good employees. They worked hard. They were consistent. It made me sad they felt like that,” Gilpin said.

Former employee, Angel Martin, said she was hired in mid-August by Gilpin 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.

Gilpin said she would call the owner to help them stay in ratio, but she would frequently say she was busy at home, running errands, or going to lunch with family.

Former employee Tameia Bell said her toddler daughter, Charlie, attended Happy Tots when she started working there in July. She was also hired by Gilpin. 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.

“I personally experienced staff members crying due to lack of staff and directors that were unable to handle the job. The owner was rarely in during business hours to provide guidance. Our child’s behavior changed from wanting to go to school to being scared of going and would beg us to be kept at home.”

Parent of former Happy Tots child

However, she says even though she’s sad they felt that way — they were speaking the truth. Gilpin said there were always more children than there should be, not enough staff, and not enough help. She said the owner of Happy Tots kept enrolling kids even when they didn’t have enough teachers to cover.

“She kept enrolling kids and I would say we need to stop enrolling. Let’s get some teachers hired. She ignored that and kept enrolling kids. She said no, we need the money. We need the money here,” Gilpin said.

According to the State of Kansas, since January they’ve had five compliance checks and four complaint investigations. FOX4 spoke with a number of parents who would like to see the daycare investigated. That their children were physically abused or neglected and when they brought it up to the owner the parents were shut down.

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. Gilpin said she reported this incident to the state. She said she immediately fired the employee and called the child’s parents.

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.”

“We may never know what extent of neglect or abuse has occurred or for how long but as a parent I want and investigation so we can have the facts and aren’t left wondering what could or will happen in the future with this facility and the children of our small but close community.”

Parent of former Happy Tots child

Gossett says it makes her feel horrible to know this was the experience parents had. Gilpin says she tried to hire skilled staff, but the company only offered around $11 per hour full-time and no benefits. Before taxes they would earn around $20,000 per year. She says they were offered Aflac, but no other form of benefit.

According to Happy Tot’s website they charge $360 per week for children 0-11 months with a decreasing fee to $260 as the child reaches school age. Annually, a family would pay around $17,000 per year for care at the center.

“Nobody was coming in to interview, and then they would show up, and then she wouldn’t let me offer them the proper amount to be paid, and they would go somewhere else,” Gilpin said.

“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.”

Previous statement from Happy Tots Day Care Center

She says if employees were sick the owner still expected them to come in so they could meet their ratios. Gilpin said she would ask them to come in even if they were running a fever, and didn’t believe employees when they told her they were ill.

Former employee Tori 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.

 “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.”

Previous statement from Happy Tots Day Care Center

Both women are in the process of leaving the child care industry altogether after their experience.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m stronger because of it,” Gossett said.

FOX4’s Sherae Honeycutt reached out to the owners of Happy Tots after speaking with the women. When she finally got ahold of one of the owners on the phone he hung up on her and did not respond to her follow-up text message.

If you are a family who have been impacted by Happy Tots or another daycare center in the metro reach out to Sherae Honeycutt at sherae.honeycutt@fox4kc.com.

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