Two instances of alleged child abuse at a local SMILE Head Start/Early Head Start center were not reported to local, state and federal authorities as required by law, according to findings of a January review by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.
The alleged abuse, which occurred between December 2015 and January 2016 at a New Iberia Head Start center, came to light between two and three months later, after it was reported by an anonymous source to the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Licensing,
According to the Administration for Children and Families report, the Head Start administrative staff also did not report the allegations to the governing board of the St. Martin Iberia Lafayette Community Action Agency.
It appears the board learned about the abuse allegations approximately 10 months after they occurred, when Interim CEO Brenda Foulcard reported in October 2016 receipt of an anonymous letter. She said she would investigate the allegations and report her findings within 30 days.
n the first incident on Dec. 1, 2015, a Head Start teacher and teacher aide “subjected a 4-year-old child to physical and emotional punishment and humiliation” by forcing her to clean up her own urine after she had an accident in the classroom, according to the Administration for Children and Families report. The Head Start Center director and SMILE administrative staff reviewed surveillance footage and confirmed the teacher and aide did not use appropriate discipline on the child.
The center director sent an email Dec. 8, 2015, to the Head Start/Early Head Start director, Mary Cobb, and the teacher and aide were fired that same day, the report states.
The second incident involved another Head Start teacher who allegedly hit a child on his side and yanked something out of his hand, according to the federal agency report. That teacher was suspended for two days without pay and was transferred to another Head Start center.
The report does not indicate why the first two employees were fired while the third, who allegedly struck a child, was not fired. The personnel file of the teacher who allegedly struck the child contained no documentation about the incident “other than the employee’s disciplinary action form stating she exhibited inappropriate redirection of children,” the report states.
Head Start files on both children contained nothing about the incidents, according to the report.
The Head Start director told a federal representative in January 2017 that she did not notify the Division of Licensing or regional office that oversees Head Start of the incidents, not did staff properly document the incidents, notify the children’s parents or immediately report the incident to stakeholders.
No one, including teachers and other personnel, reported the suspected child abuse to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, Child Welfare Department, either.
In a statement, SMILE Board President Marcus Bryant said he couldn’t comment on personnel matters, but that staff recently became aware of the allegations.
“We take any and all allegations of abuse, whether founded or unfounded, very seriously. Since March 2017, it has been mandated that any allegation of abuse be reported. Every person within our centers has been retrained, or is in the process of being retrained, on the mandatory reporting process,” he said. ” Additionally, the Administration for Children and Families (“ACF”) Office of Head Start recommended training. Thus, SMILE staff members, Board members, and Policy Council members attended mandatory training regarding governance in the later part of March.”
The Office of Head Start reports SMILE had 1,228 Head Start funded enrollment slots in 2015-16 and a total enrollment of 1,455. The agency also had 264 Early Head Start funded enrollment slots in 2015-16 and a total enrollment of 361.