‘Something wasn’t right’: Grand Strand mother shares story on importance of monitoring child while at daycare

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 5:30 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 6:44 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - It’s a struggle most working caregivers know too well: finding childcare.

While most childcare facilities provide quality care, many parents are still hesitant.

“I just had this feeling that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Tabitha Tatum said as she recalled the time when her son was in childcare.

“I went and toured it, everything looked really nice, it was clean, it smelled good,” she said. “You read all the stuff about what to look for so, I looked around, paid attention in the rooms to see how they were taken care of, how they were cleansing, the different utensils, and things, their everyday schedule. So, I felt good. It just seemed like a happy place.”

Tatum’s son is now nine years old, but when he was an infant, she and her husband both worked, so she put their three-month-old in the facility that she felt was best for her family.

“I called every single day, like a new mom,” Tatum said.

She added that the only way she would put her son in childcare was if there was a camera system in place; not knowing how crucial it would be. “This one particular day,” she recalled. “I called, and I heard crying in the background, and I thought, ‘That sounds like my son.’ So, I asked, ‘Is that Maverick?’ and they said, ‘Yes, I think he just woke up from a nap.’ So, I thought that was a little odd, but I mean, babies cry.”

Tatum said when she picked up her son that day, he seemed abnormally hungry.

“He just ate as if he’d never eaten before,” she remembered.

He was also tired. She said he then fell asleep and slept for the rest of the night.

“You used to have to feed your baby every two hours,” she said. “So here I am expecting to wake him up to feed him again, and he won’t wake up, because he’s so exhausted.”

Tabitha Tatum's son Maverick when he was an infant.
Tabitha Tatum's son Maverick when he was an infant.(Source: Tabitha Tatum)

Tatum said the childcare center gave her a log each day, noting the times he would eat, sleep and have diaper changes, but something just didn’t add up. She told the center she would be keeping her son home but wanted to come in and see the video of that day.

“I’m watching my son, as a three-month-old baby, crying that he’s hungry, that it’s time to eat,” she recalled. “And he’s in a swing going like this, three months old, and they’re putting the bottle in his mouth, and just going like this, trying to feed him, and he wouldn’t take it, he wouldn’t take it, because he’s going like this, side to side, and I’m just watching, I’m watching the hour, the time progress of him just wailing, crying and never eating a bottle.”

Tatum said she doesn’t know if the childcare staff fed her son that day.

“I just know that I watched my baby for a few hours,” she explained. “Because you can fast forward, she fast forwarded on the time, and he was still crying, and he was still crying, and he was still crying.”

She said she never took her son back to the daycare.

Connelly-Anne Ragley, the director of communications and external affairs at South Carolina’s Department of Child Services said Tatum did everything right by picking up on the signs that her infant son was giving her.

“Watching their changes in their behavior, checking their bodies, if you see a suspicious mark or a question, talking to the childcare provider,” Ragley said. “Children, even though they might not be able to communicate with us, they do give us lots of signs that maybe something is just not right at school or their childcare facility.”

DSS is responsible for licensing and regulating the health and safety of all childcare facilities in the state, and it’s a big job.

There are currently more than 2,400 legal centers in the state, and each center is inspected annually.

“We have a lot of things in state law and state regulations, as far as sanitary guidelines, health and safety, as well as spacing to make sure there’s enough space for children, making sure the employees of the childcare center have been fingerprinted and background checked. To make sure they are not on the abuse registry for child abuse and neglect, make sure they can pass a SLED and FBI fingerprint background check,” Ragley explained.

In addition to employee records, sanitary regulations and spacing, each year DSS will look at ratios, making sure there’s the right number of staff for each age group.

For example, the state requires one staff member for every five infants, because babies need more hands-on care than older kids.

DSS also looks closely at the safety protocols for how children are signed in and out of and moving through, a facility, meaning staff knows exactly where a child is supposed to be, and with whom. Finally, it also checks the condition of the building, as well as outdoor play and meal areas.

A parent herself, Ragley said choosing where to place your child for care can be overwhelming.

“At the end of the day, parents and caregivers are making such an important decision about where to leave their children, so they can go and work and make a living so they can help provide for their families,” she said. “Safety is of the utmost importance for parents when they are making the choice as to which childcare center works for them.”

Ragley said Tatum’s experience is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t represent the majority of childcare workers.

“Think about it, they’re caring for these children, like their own, during the day, and there are hundreds of thousands of childcare workers in South Carolina that you never see on the news, that are wiping the noses and helping prepare the bottles, and helping children get ready for school every day, that are unsung heroes,” Ragley said.

Tatum said she knows her son’s situation was likely an exception, and there are plenty of wonderful childcare facilities and workers.

She wants her experience to warn other families to be aware of what can happen. It’s an experience that still, nine years later, stirs up emotions.

“This is going to sound so crazy, but I couldn’t even drive by it. It would make me feel so sick to my stomach, I couldn’t even drive by it, I had to take a detour because I couldn’t... it’s your baby,” Tatum said.

Ragley said every licensed childcare center in the state is available on the SCDSS website, from small, in-home family care with fewer than six children, to large facilities with hundreds of kids.

MORE INFORMATION | South Carolina Department of Social Services website

She said the first step for parents is to check to make sure a center is on that site. If it’s not there, it’s not licensed. You can also find inspection reports for each licensed facility.

SC DSS Child Care Center Parent Checklist
SC DSS Child Care Center Parent Checklist(SC DSS)
SC DSS Family Child Care Home Parent Checklist
SC DSS Family Child Care Home Parent Checklist(SC DSS)