You’ll Never Believe What A Church Day Care Can Do To Your Child

A teacher holding a paddle (image courtesy Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch)
A teacher holding a paddle (image courtesy Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch)
A teacher holding a paddle (image courtesy Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch)
A teacher holding a paddle (image courtesy Clifton Adcock, Oklahoma Watch)

Back in February, I told you that a day care center aligned with a Charlotte megachurch is under fire for kicking out kids with disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, it turns out that compliance with ADA rules is one of the few regulations that church-affiliated day care centers in North Carolina and three other states have to follow. An investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that day care centers in these states can get away with things that would never be tolerated at their secular counterparts.

In 46 states and the District of Columbia, child care workers are not allowed to physically punish children. The four outliers are Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. In these states, child care centers aligned with churches are allowed to use corporal punishment. However, CIR discovered that dozens of day cares either downplay or outright lie how often their kids will be paddled. In some cases, they spank kids when their parents explicitly forbid it.

In Alabama, Indiana, and Missouri, when a parent complains about a church day care going too far, regulators have little or no recourse to intervene. For instance, parents in Indiana have logged over 200 complaints about punishments that, in a sane world, would be considered child abuse. However, In Indiana, a church day care is considered a “ministry,” and therefore discipline is not regulated. It’s almost as bad in Alabama. In Jefferson and Mobile counties alone–homes to Birmingham and Mobile, respectively–parents have sent in 52 complaints about kids being left with bruises and welts. However, state regulators have no power to step in.

Several parents and workers at Kidstreet Day Care, an outreach of Twin Rivers Worship Center in Affton, Missouri; got a rude surprise when the center was investigated for abuse in 2013. The center’s discipline policy explicitly states that workers are not allowed to “spank, shake, bite, pinch, push, pull, slap or otherwise physically punish” kids.

However, a number of workers told state child welfare workers that director Kathy McFall encouraged them to engage in these very practices. For instance, she taught them to pinch kids between the upper thigh and butt cheek in a way that it wouldn’t leave a mark. She called it the “banana pinch.” McFall also flicked kids in the face when they spoke too loudly, and encouraged teachers to do it as well–but to be sure to have their backs to the windows when they did it. She was also accused of giving Benadryl to a three-year-old to get him to sleep, and was seen dragging four-year-old Abigail Wimer into a dark room when she had an asthma attack.

Abigail’s mother, Kristy–now known as Kristy Guetterman–had seen marks on Abigail’s arms for some time, but thought they were from other kids. She was therefore dumbfounded when state investigators told her about the abuse. However, Missouri doesn’t require church day care centers to be licensed, so the most regulators could do was tell Kidstreet to be more honest about its discipline policy.

Things are somewhat better in North Carolina, where a church day care is only allowed to spank kids if the state approves its discipline policy. However, there are still a few scofflaws. One of the worst offenders is Tabernacle Christian Day Care in Monroe, east of Charlotte. After numerous complaints about heavy-handed discipline, the state tried to shut Tabernacle down in 2002. However, the center’s owner, Bible Baptist Tabernacle, persuaded the state to let it stay open.

Three years later, a child was paddled so hard that it left bruises on his back. The center was slapped with a $500 fine, and has since barred staffers from paddling kids. However, staffers are allowed to give kids “hot hands” on the palm if parents allow it. After a worker gave a two-year-old four raps on the fist and three on his palm–far more than allowed for his age–Tabernacle was fined $500 and the worker was suspended. Hmmm–sounds to me like Tabernacle has blown its second chance several times over.

As a Christian myself, I believe there is something rotten in the state of a day care that hides behind religion in order to justify this behavior. You would think that Christian day cares would be pushing for standards well above their secular counterparts. What’s it going to take for these states to get the hint–a child dying or scarred for life?

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.

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