Shock claim of daycare abuse

THE owners of one of Port Elizabeth’s most prominent, upmarket daycare centres have refused to take any action against a female employee accused of sexual abusing a toddler in her care.

The woman continues to work with children at the centre, despite charges being laid with police and confirmation by medical and psychological experts that the three-year-old boy was molested over a period of time, most likely while at daycare.

The case has prompted a warning by a top Bay clinical social worker for parents to be careful when choosing a daycare facility and also to be vigilant about any behavioural changes in their children.

The boy’s mother, who cannot be named to protect the identity of her son, said she made the horrific discovery six months ago when her son developed an infection on his genitals.

“I took him to the doctor, who prescribed medication. But then I found that my son was behaving strangely and constantly holding onto his private parts. He told me he was sore. When I asked why, he said that his caregiver – and he named her – had hurt it. I was horrified but I did not want to believe that this was true.

“I approached the owner of the daycare and explained what had happened. The owner said she would investigate and asked me to return to the school at 11am that day. When I returned she was not there for our planned meeting.

“That is when I knew she was not taking this seriously. I removed my son from the school immediately.

“The owner e-mailed me to say she had questioned my son and the employee, who denied everything. I am upset that she did not have my permission to question my son and also did it without any witnesses.

“We have reports from our paediatrician and a forensic report from a clinical social worker that indicates our little boy was sexually molested and that his behaviour is consistent with being abused while at daycare.

“He has also undergone therapy by a psychologist who has over 30 years’ experience in dealing with these kind of cases.”

The woman said she had laid a complaint with police, but that they told her they were unable to proceed with prosecution without a statement from the boy, who is still too traumatised to provide one.

“We are unable to see any kind of justice for my son. He is unable to give a statement. When we took him to the police, he was too terrified to speak. We were told if he had given a statement, he would also have to be put through a competency test to prove he understands the difference between a lie and the truth. Then, he would have to testify in court and the defence would be able to question him too.

“We are taking legal advice and considering laying a civil case against the creche. Of course, this would cost thousands.”

However the owners of the daycare centre – the name of which is known to Weekend Post – this week maintained the allegations were without merit and that the alleged perpetrator had undergone a polygraph test. Their lawyer, Steven Brewis, said his client had “immediately conducted an investigation into the allegation”.

“At the request of the child’s parents, conveyed through their legal representatives, our client instructed labour law consultants to conduct a further investigation, which included polygraph testing of the caregiver concerned.

“The labour law consultants have concluded their investigation, having reported that no deception was indicated during the polygraph testing and that the caregiver concerned was truthful when she answered the relevant questions,” Brewis said.

Brewis said having considered the report of the labour law consultants, his client was satisfied the allegations of abuse were “without merit or foundation” and that the outcome of the consultants’ investigation has been conveyed to the parents’ legal representative.

However, he refused to provide Weekend Post with a copy of the polygraph test results, or confirm when the test had been done. He also would not comment on what background checks the daycare centre had conducted before hiring the employee.

Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said while a docket was opened for the case and police investigated the matter, without a statement linking someone to the alleged abuse, they could not proceed to ensure prosecution.

“There is no way around that statement as there are no witnesses involved,” he said.

Clinical social worker Dr Heather Rauch said she was concerned about the way the school had handled the situation. “In any school where this type of allegation is made, it needs to be handled immediately and taken seriously.”

Rauch said while the figure of children being sexually abused at early childhood development centres in the city was not an alarming statistic, it did happen on occasion.

“It is important to remember that people who abuse children sexually will go out and seek employment at places where there are a large number of children, like at daycares. This is why the screening process for potential employees is so important,” Rauch said.

The mother’s attorney, Joanne Anthony, said because of the lack of an Eastern Cape sexual offenders register which employers can refer to during the screening process, many abusers were being employed.

She said it was up to a prosecutor to determine whether there was enough information to take the case forward.

is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend
Post on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

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