State investigating Victoria day-care center after abuse allegations
April 6, 2013 at 10 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
Day after day, 4-year-old Gino came home with a ravenous appetite.
And his mother, Gabby Alvarado, chalked it up to a growth spurt.
This behavior went on for months, and he cried, she said, each afternoon when his day care teacher threw his food in the trash because he wasn't eating it fast enough.
"She would make him sit there and watch the other kids eat," Alvarado said of what a former employee told her. "She said he was misbehaving."
That's just one of the 72 incidents from 2011 to 2013 that caused the Department of Family and Protective Services to put Bearly Beginning Day Care Center on probation.
The center has about five more months to turn things around at its Lawndale Avenue location, where workers have been accused of pinching, shaking and humiliating children, among other things, said Adriene Driggers, the Southwest District Director of Child Care Licensing for the DFPS.
An investigation is ongoing.
Co-owner Steve Alkek said the center fell out of compliance on things such as running a required FBI background check on employees and dusting equipment while it was in between directors. The owners have since found someone qualified to fill the position.
"You know a lot of day cares get put on probation and come off of it OK. It's not something you like, but it can be a good learning experience," he said.
Alkek said unfortunately some of the allegations target one employee who was transferred to the Lawndale location from the Miori Lane center when they needed an extra set of hands. She has worked for him for about 10 years.
He said some disgruntled employees were bitter that they weren't selected for the supervisory position. He fired those employees but said now the center is at their mercy.
"If we let an employee go for reasons that they believe were wrong, they will call licensing, and licensing is obligated to follow up. ... They are put between a rock and a hard place, and it is just our bad luck," Alkek said.
He said that also happens whenever owners get onto a parent for not paying their bill.
The accused employee elected to leave on her own. Believing she is innocent, Alkek said he would hire her back once the investigation is complete.
Co-owner Maribel Alkek agreed.
"She would have to tell them (the other employees) to do things the right way. ... It all boils down to everybody wanting to do their own thing, too many chiefs and not enough Indians," she said. "I do feel like I have heard from different people that the morale is a lot better now."
The Advocate is not naming the accused employee because attempts to reach her via Facebook were unsuccessful. Her name was also not in the phone book.
Gino now stays with Alvarado's sister in a town two hours away. Alvarado is struggling to find a new day care to use that offers flexible hours that suits her busy schedule as a bank employee.
Alvarado said center workers repeatedly called her and acted like Gino was too much to handle. One day, they accused him of throwing pebbles at a teacher.
"I asked him, 'Why did you do that?' and he said, 'Because she was throwing them at me, Mom,'" Alvarado said. "My son is not going to lie. I don't even think he knows how to."
Jessica Burdette had a similar experience when she dropped off her daughter Joleigh, 6, and son Joshua, 5.
"Each day, it was a fight with them because they hated being there," Burdette said, noting Joshua would come home covered in bruises and bites after being bullied by another child all day.
"And her (the accused teacher's) solution was to put Josh in another area of the day care by himself. My son never caused any problems, yet he was the one being isolated from the other kids," Burdette said.
Burdette also said workers often told Joleigh there were no pencils for her. Because of that, she stayed up until 10:30 p.m. each night completing her homework.
They now go to Noah's Ark Christian Day Care, and Burdette struggled to track down incident reports the Texas Workforce Commission needed to help fund the children's tuition elsewhere.
"If the day care provider has been under some type of sanction by the state agency governing them, of course, we'll put a hold on providing a child care subsidy on new enrollments there," said Henry Guajardo, the commission's executive director.
He would not say whether that's happened in this case.
Christine Tovar of the Golden Crescent Court Appointed Special Advocatessaid no one should take away a child's food.
"There might be long-term effects when children grow up," Tovar, a case manager, said. "Certain kinds of food can trigger that memory ... maybe even leading to food addictions or the opposite, anorexia."
Sara Serrano, a licensed professional counselor in Victoria, said most children crave structure. The teacher simply needs to explain what purpose the rules serve.
She described this as an "authoritative" parenting style.
"VISD's school schedule allows for a 30-minute lunch, so that's been typical," Serrano, of Place4 Counseling Center in Victoria, said. "But there is a level of understanding and communication to where you say, 'We only have 30 minutes to eat, so then we can all go outside and play,' or 'We all have to leave the classroom at the same time because it is not safe for you to stay here by yourself.'"
Dr. Bret Hendricks, the president of the Texas Counseling Association, said a parent or teacher must be proactive, otherwise the child might rebel.
"You have to be positive up front and get the kids to buy into the idea that if they're doing the right thing they're going to be rewarded for it," Hendricks said.
Children between the ages of 3 and 4 are in developmental phase where they are starting to make their own decisions and trying new things rather than being passive, he said.
"It's very critical that people avoid being punitive because that can initiate a sense of shame and carry over into the future, effecting the way they interact with people in the future," Hendricks said.
Bearly Beginning Day Care Center has been in business for 17 years, Steve Alkek said. They care for about 120 infants, toddlers and school-aged children from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
Not all of the 72 violations against the day care may be considered high risk because some may have to do with paperwork, Driggers said.
Of the 55 deficiencies recorded on the agency's website for the past two years, 20 were recorded as high risk.
Driggers said investigators will pop in unannounced and interview everyone involved.
They have the authority to remove a child care provider from his or her place of work and typically involve area law enforcement when that needs to occur.
"Any findings of sexual abuse or physical abuse bars that person from ever working in a child care facility again," she said.