Daycare workers are accused of slamming kids to the ground and stepping on them. Is abuse like this common?

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle
Two daycare workers have been arrested for allegedly physically abusing kids in their care. (Photo: Sioux Falls Police)
Two daycare workers have been arrested for allegedly physically abusing kids in their care. (Photo: Sioux Falls Police)

Two daycare workers have been arrested for allegedly abusing children in their care by slamming them on the ground and stepping on them.

Teresa Gallagher, 31, and Kenedi Wendt, 22 — employees at Little Blessings Learning Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. — were arrested on 25 counts of child abuse, according to local news station KSFY, after a child complained to his mom in February.

The parent reported the incident to the police and the Department of Social Services, and the daycare center fired the women. Police inspected security footage from Feb. 14 to Feb. 23, which revealed the employees picking up the children, ages 3 and 4, and slamming them onto their sleeping mats, stepping on them, knocking their heads around, and pulling their arms.

Gallagher and Wendt are being held on a $25,000 cash bond and will appear in court Tuesday.

Representatives from Little Blessings, the Department of Social Services, and the Sioux Falls Police Department did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

Police spokesman Sam Clemens told USA Today that even children stirring on their mats caused the teachers to abuse them.

“The video was pretty clear, but it was tough to figure out why this took place,” said Clemens. “All of it seemed to be happening really just kind of because.” He added that several parents reported that their children did not like nap time at school. None of the kids required medical attention, but some complained of back pain or headaches.

Cases like the one at Little Blessings made headlines in March. A daycare owner was recently sentenced to 21 years in prison for running an illegal business called Little Giggles, lying to parents and saying she was a registered nurse, medicating children with melatonin (a natural sleep aid), and leaving them unsupervised while she went tanning and to the gym.

Three employees at the Kiddie Junction Daycare facility in Illinois were also arrested for allegedly giving children gummy bears laced with melatonin before nap time. They were charged with two counts of endangering the life or health of a child and two counts of battery, and are to appear in court on Wednesday. And an employee at the Children’s Lighthouse Daycare in Spring, Texas, was arrested and jailed for allegedly grabbing a 4-year-old girl by the arm and slamming her to the ground.

While cases like these make the news because of their horrific nature, child abuse in a school or daycare setting isn’t as common as people may think, David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

In a February 2016 study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, Finkelhor and his team analyzed data from the U.S. National Surveys of Children’s Exposure to Violence regarding physical assault, sexual and verbal abuse, and neglect as reported directly by children.

Results revealed that less than 0.5 percent said they had experienced abuse over the previous year by a “teacher, coach, or youth group leader,” and under 1 percent said they had experienced this type of abuse over a lifetime.

“Daycare and preschools generally aren’t high-risk environments due to the added accountability, systems of checks and balances, and educational training that often help prevent abuse,” Finkelhor says.

Surprisingly, the fact that many classrooms have surveillance cameras may not stop abuse from occurring. “It’s possible that some teachers forget they’re being filmed, operate in an environment where their behavior is considered acceptable, or simply believe they’re not doing anything wrong,” he says.

Finkelhor’s research revealed that abuse is actually more common at home than at school — 6 percent of children said they had experienced abuse by a family member over the previous year, and 11 percent said they had over their lifetime, suggesting that some kids might be safer in school.

“Kids may be less safe at home — a private environment — where more vulnerable and problematic moments occur,” he says.

Finkelhor adds that parents who are concerned about potential abuse can ask schools how discipline is handled and how teachers are trained in conflict resolution. That’s also important for kids who attend more affordable home daycare centers, which are generally unlicensed and aren’t required to follow certain protocols. Parents can also call their local social services offices to obtain reports of any violations that occurred at the school.

And parents should maintain an open dialogue with their children about what adult behavior is acceptable, says Finkelhor. “You could say to a child, ‘If a person touches you or yells at you, I need to know. They may say it’s your fault, but it’s not.'”

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