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April 23. 2014 1:38PM

State revokes license for New Hampshire childcare center amid abuse allegations

NEW HAMPTON — The state is shutting down a childcare center where investigators said the owner harshly treated infants and toddlers, and as a technique to get them to nap, tightly wrapped them in fitted sheets, covering their heads and putting them at risk for suffocation or SIDS.

Annie's Place Children's Learning Center at 81 Riverwood Drive, owned by Ann E. Mitchell, is to cease its operation as of Friday per order of the state Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Licensing and Certification, Child Care Licensing Unit.

The New Hampshire Union Leader was unable to reach Mitchell for comment. She has the right to appeal the ruling at a hearing set for May 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the Administrative Appeal Unit at the Hugh Gallen Office Complex in Concord.

Melissa Clement, chief of the Child Care Licensing Unit, said the decision to revoke Mitchell's license was not based on a single accusation, but on what was found in an overall investigation and the determination that the center was not safe for children.

The investigation listed 14 incidents that violated state laws or regulations that licensing coordinators found when they visited the facility on March 5 and March 11. Clement said the visits were in response to a complaint, but she declined to identify the complainant, citing confidentiality. The 16-page report, compiled by licensing coordinators Kathy MacKenzie and Michelle Deyermond, indicates the complainant is the mother of a 4-year-old boy who was enrolled at the center.

Investigators spoke with Mitchell, her staff, the children and parents resulting in the report containing allegations that Mitchell:

- placed the children, some as young as 8 months old, on their stomachs and then wrapped them in fitted sheets, covering their heads, to get them to lay down at nap time;

- did not allow parents free access to the center;

- that she maintained a rigid 1 to 3 p.m. nap time for all children, no matter their age and whether they were tired or not;

- that she slammed a 4-year-old child repeatedly down onto the floor on his butt, while putting him in time-outs in a bathroom;

- allowed babies to "cry and cry and cry" for 45 minutes to an hour if they woke up before the 3 p.m. end to nap time.

During a March 11 visit, the state investigators observed a 10-month-old child repeatedly struggling to move beneath a tightly tucked blanket, unable to free her arms or legs without any response from the staff, according to the report. The coordinators told the staff the child was not safe and they needed to release her.

Mitchell admitted to using the tucking technique but said the sheet was lightweight and two corners would be untucked once the child fell asleep. When asked why she covered a 13-month-old child with a crib sheet, Mitchell said because "he wouldn't lay down."

Employees also told investigators that Mitchell yelled at the children and was particularly harsh with a 4-year-old boy, whose mother filed the complaint with the state.

The child told coordinators that when he was bad he had to go to a time-out in the kitchen where he would sit in a chair

"When I scream really loud in the kitchen Ms. (applicant - Mitchell) puts me in the bathroom and closes the door," the boy told the coordinators. When she brings him to the bathroom, he said, Mitchell closes the door and then "she bangs my bum like this, on the floor." According to the report, the child stood up and demonstrated slamming himself down onto the floor more than once.

A staff member said sometimes the 4-year-old resisted going to time-out and Mitchell would take him to the kitchen and "plunk him down." She also told the state investigators about an incident earlier this year when a 27-month-old child hit her head on the wall when Mitchell allegedly slammed her down.

When children would bite, the employees told the state investigators, Mitchell would put them in time-out. "You could hear them hit the spot; hear the thump of the door," one staffer told them.

Investigators also learned a 7-month-old girl was put in a fleece snowsuit for nap time whenever she was fussy after the child's parents took home a swaddling blanket. Mitchell, when asked about a child sleeping in a snowsuit, told the licensing coordinators that "it is the same as a swaddling blanket."

Clement said medical experts advise parents not to "swaddle" infants beyond the age of two months, and manufacturers of infant and children's snowsuits caution they should not be used for sleepwear because of the potential the child may overheat and issues related to the child being restrained in it.

The state inspectors also were concerned about two children, ages 13 months and 21 months, who took naps in a separate room with the door closed. On the March 5 inspection, the state coordinators opened the solid, metal door to the room to see both toddlers standing, wide awake in their portable cribs with the overhead lights on. They could not hear the child in the "nap room" when the door was closed due to the volume of the voices, activity of the classroom, and the thickness of the door. The room had no nursery monitor in it.

Mitchell was licensed to operate a childcare center for 24 children, ages six weeks to 12 years old, but Clement said there were 18 children enrolled. In 2001, Mitchell was cited for using belts to tie toddlers to chairs. Clement said Mitchell ended that practice and, in the ensuing years, no complaint about the childcare center was filed with the state; that is until this year.

The licensed coordinators said Mitchell violated statues and rules and endangered one or more children when she used corporal punishment, in this case mechanical restraints - the tightly wrapped fitted sheet - and with the "rough handling" of children; i.e. plunking the 4-year-old down on the floor.


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