Cozy Critters on probation after child’s fall into septic tank

Cozy Critters Child Care near Ocean View has been placed on probation for one year by the State of Delaware Office of Child Care Licensing, following an incident there on Aug. 16 in which a toddler fell into an open septic tank.

The child was rescued by a staff member and was not seriously harmed.

Cozy Critters, owned by Lora Collins and located in the 35000 block of Beaver Dam Road, will be subject to increased visits by the state agency, which is under the state’s Division of Family Services, Department of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families.

The agency sent her a letter, dated Sept. 19 and signed by Elizabeth Timm, administrator. The letter informed Collins probation was implemented because of the center’s failure to comply with DELACARE: Regulations for Early Care and Education and School-Age Centers.

A woman who answered the telephone at Cozy Critters early this week refused to comment and did not identify herself.

Probation, the letter states, “is intended to alert you to the importance of compliance and provide you with another opportunity to demonstrate compliance.”

While on probation, Collins must remain in conformity with all regulations.

“Ms. Collins received notification from OCCL on Sept. 25, 2019, so she has 10 working days to respond to the notice and decide if she wants a hearing to appeal the decision,” Joseph D. Smack, community relations coordinator for the state agency, told the Coastal Point early this week.

“Her deadline is Oct. 10, 2019. If she does not respond, the probationary period is formally put into place,” Smack said.

“There were no criminal charges, to our knowledge. The two employees who were supervising the children at the time of the incident were dismissed by Ms. Collins, and the safety issue was remediated,” Smack said.

The letter to Collins states that on Aug. 16, the day the child fell into the septic tank, there was lack of supervision and children were being allowed to play in a hazardous area.

“A child fell through an open septic tank lid, and the staff members did not realize the child was missing until the group returned inside the building. Staff allowed the children to use an outdoor area that was unsafe and not free of hazards. In a written statement, a staff member noted she noticed the septic tank lid was off, so she and other staff member took turns standing by it; however, they continued to allow the children to have water play in that area,” the letter states.

Additional violations listed in the letter included:

• An inflatable water slide was being used weekly instead of for special occasions, and there was no protective surface beneath it.

• Improper staff-to-children ratio.

• Improper group size for toddlers, because two unqualified staff members were caring for 13 children ages 1 and 2. The letter states at least one staff member should have been qualified, and there should have been no more than 12 children in the group.

Additionally, on Sept. 10, during an unannounced visit by a state specialist, it was determined that a child’s EpiPen was at the daycare center, but written permission from the parents to administer it had not been obtained. Also, medication was at the daycare center that was expired and had not been returned to the parents.

On Sept. 12, during another unannounced visit by a state specialist, it was further determined that group-size requirements were not being followed in the infant classroom. Nine infants were allegedly there, although the maximum number allowed is eight. Safe sleep practices for infants were also allegedly not being followed. One infant, asleep in a crib, was wearing a bib. All children also needed written feeding statements from parents, to assure they were being fed proper foods and correct amounts.

After the Aug. 16 septic tank incident, a representative from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) told the Coastal Point that septic tanks are inspected by the State when a property is for sale, but not at intervals once it is owned. She said that once a septic tank is installed and approved, officials can’t know what happens to lids that should be in place. Some lids are plastic and others are made of heavy metal, she said.

By Susan Canfora
Staff Reporter