A Lowcountry daycare is open while three lawsuits are pending in which parents claim their children were injured. Citations from the Department of Social Services are also mounting.
Kayla Gombwer scrambled to find childcare for her one-year-old son after her boss said the baby couldn’t come to work with her any more. She called several places until she found Harvest Time Academy in Goose Creek.
“They said they had an opening,” Gombwer explained to News 2’s Rebecca Collett. “That’s how we ended up there.”
Gombwer says within weeks of leaving her son at Harvest Time Academy, she noticed bruising. She took him to the hospital for evaluation.
“DSS was notified,” Kayla Gombwer told News 2’s Rebecca Collett. “We had to take polygraphs to prove we didn’t hurt our child.”
According to the lawsuit filed attorneys Michael Dill and Eliza Cantwell, doctors diagnosed a fractured sternum.
“The doctor said it would have been a high impact, high velocity impact,” Gombwer recounted.
They still don’t know what happened.
Through a Freedom of Information request, Count on 2 obtained the state inspection records from the Department of Social Services on Harvest Time academy. Those records revealed when case workers tried to inspect the facility and investigate the injury, employees wouldn’t open the door.
The daycare has a long history of infractions. In 2013 DSS created a Corrective Action Plan following several violations. But Harvest Time Academy staff wouldn’t attend hearings with DSS.
In six years of records, DSS cited the facility for having thick blankets in cribs; leaving chemicals within children’s reach; and having dangerous playground equipment. The most common citation year after year was for the facility lacking adequate staff to watch children. In the most recent complaint in 2018, there was one adult to twenty children under two years old. Regulations require one adult to six kids in that age group.
We’re trying to get justice for our clients,” Michael Dill told News 2. “When we first filed this case, we thought it was one incident. When we started digging we found a number of infractions.”
Dill and Cantwell filed two more lawsuits against the daycare in April after more families came forward alleging a variety of injuries to other young children. The cases are pending.
Harvest Time Academy attorney’s haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment.
Sherrie Dueno, with the DSS, says parents have two online tools to compare daycares before picking one. She recommends parents review state licensing information and citations on SCCHILDCARE.ORG.
Parents can review a third-party assessment of a daycare’s curriculum at ABCQUALITY.ORG.
“Licensing is going in to look at health and safety,” Dueno explained. With ABC Quality someone is going in to look at the quality of the program.”
Sherrie says don’t stop inspecting your daycare once your child starts attending.
“Look. Listen. And ask. Pay attention to what you see. Listen to the conversations around you. And ask open ended questions,” she explains
The Gombwers still have questions about what happened to their son.
“How did this happen?” Paul Gombwer, the boy’s father, wondered. “Did someone hit him? Did he fall down?”
According to DSS records, when case workers tried to inspect the facility and investigate the injury, employees wouldn’t open the door.
When there are regulatory concerns, child care facilities are placed on a corrective action plan (CAP). In accordance with state statute, depending on the seriousness of the concerns, the facility could be on the CAP for three to six months, according to Marilyn M. Matheus, Director
Public Information and Media Relations at the Department of Social Services.
If violations persist, the agency will move to revocation.
“If we move to a revocation, the facility has the right to appeal the decision, which, during the process, the facility is allowed (by law) to continue to operate,” Matheus explained. “Once the matter is heard and if the decision is upheld, they must close.”
However, they also have the right to appeal that decision further to the Administrative Law Court (ALC) and are allowed to continue to operate. If the ALC upholds the decision of the Agency, then the provider must close. If it is not upheld and the decision is reversed, then the matter is closed.
“We try to work with child care facilities by looking their at specific issues and we allow them an opportunity to correct them,” Matheus explained the process.