Parents who used to send their children to a Quebec City daycare where three toddlers escaped and crossed a busy four-lane boulevard last week allege there have been cases of children being mistreated in the past.
CBC has learned youth protection authorities (DPJ) launched an investigation into the Jardin Enchanté daycare last spring, after a parent reported witnessing a sitting child being lifted off the ground by the arm and thrown against a wall by a daycare worker.
The investigation also looked into cases where the same woman allegedly struck at least two other children.
The director and owner of the daycare, Geneviève Côté, says no children were hit to her knowledge, but she could not recall precise details about the investigation. She also says the employee in question was fired.
“We see that nothing improved,” said the mother of a child at the centre of the investigation.
She said the owners “put their head in the sand, don’t take action, get rid of people who make too much noise and take advantage of the fact it’s hard for parents to find daycares.”
Pascale Godin, whose two sons attended the Jardin Enchanté, a private, non-subsidized daycare, says the incident on Oct. 28 is just the latest example of staff not ensuring all the children in their care are accounted for.
Last spring, a tearful child was found by his mother and a staff member pressed against the window of a door. He had been alone in a locked, darkened room for half an hour at the end of the day.
Coté confirmed the event, adding “The child was found safe.”
In August, Godin says she found a girl alone in a second-storey room when the rest of the group had gone outside.
She estimates the child had been there for ten minutes. She made a complaint to the Family Ministry but then retracted it. She also withdrew a complaint she made after she says her son spent at least an hour in urine-soaked clothes.
“I felt stuck because I withdrew complaints that should have been investigated but I was too scared to lose my place, a place that was far from ideal, but it’s the only one I had for my child,” Godin said.
Too scared to speak up
Godin says there is a “reign of fear and terror” at the daycare because parents are scared to speak up.
She’s speaking publicly now because on Tuesday she found a new daycare.
“[My 19-month-old] doesn’t speak very much, it would be next to impossible for him to say there is a problem,” she said. “I don’t have confidence [in the daycare] anymore.”
Contracts not renewed
Côté acknowledges that, on occasion, she has not renewed a contract with a family.
“When a parent is eternally dissatisfied and no matter what solutions we propose or put in place are not satisfactory, at a certain point there is a limit,” she said.
“I don’t believe there are good or bad daycares, there are just the expectations of parents.”
CBC looked at three contracts provided by management to parents. A contract from 2017 says the owners can put an end to the agreement if “the parent damages the reputation of the business.”
Hope for change
Several parents CBC spoke to say they hope last week’s events finally prompt change at the daycare.
In June, 24 parents co-signed a letter addressed to the family minister outlining their concerns but the parent who sent the letter says she’s had next to no followup since.
Catherine Baboudjian, one of the parents who signed the letter, also made a complaint to the ministry that month after seeing a daycare worker drag a child by the arm across the yard.
“I’m really frustrated. I’m really discouraged,” Baboudjian said. “I just don’t understand what it takes to make some significant changes and not just send out recommendations on a piece of paper.”
Baboudjian says she would like to see the daycare taken over by someone else.
Family Ministry investigating
The family minister’s office says the reported incidents at the Jardin Enchanté are “unacceptable” and says the ministry is currently investigating the daycare.
A spokesperson for the Family Ministry says there have been five inspections since June, and that the last time the Jardin Enchanté’s operating licence was renewed it was for one year rather than the usual three.
The spokesperson says the law allows it to revoke a permit, fine the owners or take over the administration of a daycare if it can not ensure the health, safety or well-being of children.
“At this point several measures are being considered [for the Jardin Enchanté], all depending on the ongoing analysis,” wrote Bryan St-Louis.
Every parent CBC spoke to whose child attended the daycare says there is a dizzying turnover of staff. Some said they had lost track of how many educators their children had had.
Several said they never saw Coté in person and felt better on-site management would have helped prevent problems.
Côté, who manages the 10 daycares she and her husband own, says she has made the decision to be physically present at another daycare. She now regularly has to step in as a daycare worker because of staffing shortages.
Since the spring, Côté says an assistant director spends a few days per week at the Jardin Enchanté.
Côté says that following the investigation by the DPJ, it was recommended she offer training to her staff so they understand what’s right and wrong in how they behave toward children.
A parent whose child was part of the investigation says other recommendations, such as improving the security of the site, were also made.
Côté could not say if there were other recommendations, saying her husband had followed that file more closely, but said they had “done everything that was asked by the DPJ or the Family Ministry.”
“We are responsible people,” she said.
Côté says new staff receive no in-person training when they are hired, but are provided several documents. She admits that “people don’t always read all the texts from A to Z so they may be missing some elements.” She says they have cartoon illustrations on the walls to remind staff of best practices.