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Jewish World Review August 18, 1999 /6 Elul, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Day-care neglect is fact of life --
IN HAMILTON, OHIO, last month, 6-year-old John T. Carpenter decided it would be nice to go home. So he simply walked out the door of his day-care center.

He had gone about a mile in 90 degree heat when he came upon Reruns for Wee Ones, a toy store. Parked outside were a variety of strollers, bikes and one very enticing Power Wheels truck. The truck ran on two large batteries, but it wouldn't start when John climbed aboard. So he hopped off, lifted the hood, attached the wires correctly and set off for Route 4 at 10 miles per hour.

Only then, when an alarmed motorist placed a 911 call to police about a child in a toy truck on the highway, did John's adventure come to a close.

The Hamilton police took the boy to the station and phoned Kiddie Kampus, the day-care center. At first, officials told police that John Carpenter was still there. Only when police demanded to speak with him did they confess that they had no idea where he was.

"The million dollar question," Trisha Taylor, owner of the toy store, told the Cincinnati Post, "is how did he wire that car?" No, the million dollar question is: How can the officials at a day-care center lose a child for two hours and never even notice?

John's story at least had a happy ending. No one was hurt. But many, many other day-care stories do not end so happily. In just the last several weeks, a number of children have been killed or grievously wounded as a result of day-care accidents or neglect.

In Memphis, Tenn., a day-care owner was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. He had seven children in his van at the time. In Houston, Texas, a day-care provider left a 3-year-old child who suffered from spina bifida in a hot, locked van for more than five hours, causing her death. In Memphis, two toddlers (each in separate incidents on the same hot day) suffered the same fate.

In Palm Beach, Fla., a 5-week-old infant was killed when the care-giver, who had 12 kids in her home, left the children unsupervised. A 4-year-old pushed the baby under a playpen. His skull was crushed when the children in the playpen jumped up and down. In Asheville, N.C., a fire was set by an unsupervised child during nap time. Firemen were able to save all 17 children but one, a 2-year-old who died of smoke inhalation.

And on and on it goes. In California, a toddler in day care was found at the bottom of a swimming pool. In Maryland recently, two babies smothered when placed on a mattress with too many blankets and pillows. In Portland, Maine, and San Diego, Calif., nannies are charged with manslaughter in the shaking deaths of infants.

Day-care advocates will counter that parents cause a great deal of harm to children, too, and therefore it isn't fair to conclude that children are at greater risk in day care than at home. And it is true that parents do a great deal of damage. Each week brings fresh evidence of neglect and abuse by parents, also.

But to compare those statistics misses the point. Most parents would no more abuse or neglect their children than they would hang upside down by their toes. Those parents -- the overwhelming majority -- are ferociously watchful about their own children. And when those ordinary parents are considering the pros and cons of day care -- whether they can manage on one income; whether they can persuade grandma to pitch in two days a week -- they must take into account the greater likelihood that their child will come to harm in day care than he would at home.

Most parents know the panic that results from losing track of a child for even a few seconds in a public place. Normal parents exude a force field and instantly recognize when their kids have wandered outside it. They should also realize that human nature is what it is. No one else, no matter how well-intentioned, cares that much.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate