SEATTLE – Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require formal investigations at child care centers when a death occurs, even if the child appears to have died from natural causes.
The proposal is named for a 5-month-old girl who died last year while napping in a Seattle home day care center where another death occurred in similar circumstances more than a decade earlier.
Eve Uphold’s parents, who have since moved away from Washington, testified last week before the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee.
Kyle Uphold said they were told in May 2013 their daughter died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.
When they conducted their own investigation, they discovered the day care center in a North Seattle neighborhood had been cited by the state for safety violations. They also learned another baby had died there years earlier. Their own child had been left unattended for about an hour in a waterproof portable crib with a loose cover.
Parents who brought their children to the center, which closed after Eve died and it lost its state license, should have been told about the previous problems to prevent something like this from happening, Amanda Uphold said on Thursday.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, promised the Upholds, “We really do want to learn from Eve’s death.”
House Bill 2165 would require the Department of Early Learning to conduct a child fatality review for any death in a licensed child care center, a licensed child care home, or an Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.
The bill was passed out of the House committee on Monday. It will be reviewed by a budget committee before it can go before the full House and then potentially move on to the Senate.
Fatality reviews would apply for any death – whether the cause was negligence, abuse, homicide or an apparent natural cause.
SIDS is a major cause of death for children 2 and under in child care settings. Many of these deaths are preventable if the staff follows safe sleep rules, which are taught to every licensed child care provider, according to committee and department staff.
Kagi said she was inspired to propose the bill by Eve’s story and because of her experience sitting on fatality review committees for the state’s foster care system.
Children protected by other state departments are already subject to these mandatory reviews, and the foster-care system was able to improve its safety record because of them, Kagi said.
Andy and Barbara Hazard also testified before the committee last week. Their son, Graham, died in 2001 in the same day care center where Eve died.
“It didn’t occur to us to question or challenge the circumstances or the particular day care provider,” Andy Hazard said. “She had taken care of our older son, Noah. We felt like she was a member of our family.”
A dozen years later, when they heard of Eve’s death, Barbara Hazard said, she felt a tremendous amount of guilt.
“No other parent ought to feel that way,” she said. “We naively trusted the system, and we felt everything that needed to be done had been done.”
Stu Jacobson of Washington Parents for Safe Child Care spoke in favor of the bill and said some existing laws could improve child safety if they were better enforced, including one requiring posting of notices when child care centers are inspected and found out of compliance with required safety practices.
Jacobson also would like to see a rule requiring that parents be given a safety checklist when they enroll their child so they know what to look for.
A child care litigation consultant who used to work for Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services spoke against the bill at last week’s hearing.
Margo Logan said this problem should be overseen by a state agency other than the Department of Early Learning because it forces that agency to split its mission between mentoring child care providers and regulating them. She said the bill could also be rewritten to put more legal responsibility on the state.
“There doesn’t need to be a law. We have laws. The laws aren’t being enforced,” she added.