Pembroke day care surrenders child care license following inquiry

  • The empty sign frame of Small Steps Learning Center is seen outside the building of the now-closed child care center in Pembroke on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/19/2018 4:13:54 PM

A Pembroke day care has surrendered its license to operate a child care center following a state investigation in late January.

Susan Sennett, the owner of Small Steps Learning Center, gave up her license after a Department of Health and Human Services investigation found a series of violations “jeopardizing the health, safety or welfare of children,” according to department documents.

In February, the department ordered the care center to close and sought to revoke Sennett’s license as well as deny the renewal of a license for five years, according to a letter from the Office of Legal and Regulatory Services at DHHS to Sennett dated Feb. 8.

On July 3, Sennett voluntarily surrendered her license and agreed to a five-year ban from child care businesses without admitting to the allegations.

Sennett declined to comment and directed all questions to her attorney, Roy Tilsley.

“They shut her down quickly, and we began the appeal process against the allegations that were made,” Tilsley said. He declined to comment on specific allegations mentioned in the DHHS investigation.

Small Steps Learning Center was cited for failing to report instances of suspected child abuse and for allowing a 17-year-old staff member to use corporal punishment on children, including swearing at infants and shaking and yelling at toddlers for having toilet accidents or not using their manners.

Pembroke police Chief Dwayne Gilman said this is “still an open case” and no formal charges have been filed. Gilman said his department is still gathering information and will consult with the Merrimack County attorney’s office if charges are brought.

The report is no long available on the state’s licensing website, as the business is no longer open, but the Monitor received a copy from DHHS.

Many of the allegations center around a woman identified as “Staff E,” who was 17 at the time and “had a history of drug abuse when she was hired,” according to the report.

“Staff E used corporal punishment on children when she shook or roughly handled them,” according to three other staff members, the report states.

One staff member observed Staff E become frustrated when a 2-year-old asked for help opening a snack after being told to be quiet during snack time. Staff E “Immediately got up from her chair, grabbed her by the arm and swung her into the chair, hard. The child was bawling her eyes out and ‘freaking out,’ ” according to the report.

Other incidents included Staff E yelling or swearing at infants, talking down to toddlers, shaming with unnecessary or excessive time-outs, and not allowing children to use the bathroom when they asked.

Sennett was accused of telling staff members not to report instances of suspected child abuse without going through her first.

Child care center staff members and school teachers are mandatory reporters to the Division for Children, Youth and Families if they suspect a child is being abused at home. A couple incidents were reported by different staff members involving young children who showed signs of abuse such as burn marks, bruises, black eyes and behavior indicative of abuse.

A staff member listed in the report as “Staff K” stated she had called DCYF without consulting Sennett, who was “livid that I called DCYF without telling her first. She told me I was destroying the family and that the child was just needy and attention seeking.”

Other statements showed how Sennett would tell them, “DCYF wouldn’t do anything for them anyway,” and, “You will ruin families.” She also reportedly told the whole staff at a meeting, “The next time you think about ruining someone’s life with DCYF, if I say not to call, don’t call,” according to DHHS.

The center was also cited for mishandling of lifesaving medicine for children with allergies and failing to comply with an order from the fire inspector barring children under 18 months from being in the upstairs rooms.

Additionally, some staff members reported being undertrained or otherwise not properly vetted to work with children after knowingly failing to complete background checks and fingerprint submissions.

Some former staff members stated the cruel and unusual punishments and practices ignored by the owner drove them to find jobs elsewhere, which led to high staff turnover at the center.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414 ext. 8325, or on Twitter @jaked156.)

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