Digging into day care discipline: Who gets punished and why some get a second chance

An ABC2 News Investigation in November uncovered the common violations found in the child care centers you trust with your kids.  Although those inspections turned up some disturbing results, what we found by digging deeper into the state's discipline process is even more shocking.

You won't find Tricia Gajadhar's name in the state's child care registry on www.checkccmd.org.  She's essentially been erased from the system. The former Baltimore County child care provider sat down with ABC2 for an interview.  She asked us not to show her face, but she was willing to talk about the closure of her day care two years ago.

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We found her as part of an ABC2 News investigation, looking at two years of disciplinary files for more than 300 child care providers in the Baltimore area.  Gajadhar's case sheds light on who gets punished by the state's Office of Child Care when problems are discovered, how problem providers are investigated and why some providers get a second chance. Tricia feels she did not. 

State records detailing enforcement action show Gajadhar's license was suspended in 2011 after a doctor found injuries on a two-year-old child in her care were consistent with child abuse.  Gajadhar says the boy hurt himself in a playpen tantrum.  She consistently denied abusing the boy to police, the OCC and us.

Her case highlights an interesting part of the investigative process for the OCC.  For two months, as Gajadhar's case was investigated, records show she was allowed to stay open and provide care.  Liz Kelley, director of OCC, says that's not uncommon.  Kelley says, "Very often we have to take a backseat to child protective services or the police investigation and that's why sometimes there's a little bit of a lag."

ABC2 News Investigators reviewed the timelines in dozens of discipline cases from Baltimore County providers and found the lag between when the OCC is notified to when they take action is small, generally just a few days.  Among the cases we reviewed, Gajadhar's lag in discipline was the exception.

But Kelley says once outside agencies are done their work, OCC staff can take action.  In this case, it suspended and ultimately revoked Gajadhar's license.  It's a move that occurred even though criminal charges against her were dropped.  Kelley says that kind of situation is also not unusual for her office, saying, "Our decision is not based on that criminal finding, which is my opinion, a good thing.  It is also not based on a finding of child abuse or neglect."

Kelley says the state uses its own investigation to make a determination that is independent of any parallel criminal case, relying, admittedly, on a lower threshold of proof.  She still considers their threshold to be significant and indicates every provider who is disciplined is also given the chance to fight their action.  She says, "If they don't like it or don't want to accept the decision of the hearing judge, they can also appeal."

Gajadhar says she opted to appeal the decision in her case after her attorney passed away days before the hearing.  Her day care was then shut down, based on the state's civil case. 

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