Watchdog Report: Home daycare owner charged for leaving child a - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Watchdog Report: Home daycare owner charged for leaving child at park

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Mill Creek Park -

A home daycare owner is charged with child endangering after a four-year-old girl is found wandering alone and crying in Mill Creek MetroParks.

In this Watchdog Report, 21 News was tipped off about what happened, tracked down the operator's history, and investigated what could happen next.

Minister Esther White of Youngstown, who was at the park with her loved ones, saw the four-year-old. "The little girl was walking over here in the grass crying.  I looked at her, and her fingernails were painted, she had Air Jordans on, her hair was nice, and I said somebody loves this baby," White said.

White was among those who came to the aid of the girl who was found wandering alone in the Wick Recreation Area of Mill Creek MetroParks.  It happened on the afternoon of June 27th.

"My sister said she remembered the little girl said, 'Wait, wait, I've got to get my socks and shoes on.'  But they continued to go.  And my sister says she thought the little girl went with the group until she saw her crying there," White said.

White walked the child around the park to see if she recognized anyone.  White also asked the child if she knew her mom's phone number or address.  The girl said no, but did say she was with a group and "Miss Jackie." 

Jacqueline Underwood would then be charged with child endangering after police determined the home daycare owner had left the four-year-old at the park, after traveling there for a field trip.  Underwood was released on house arrest and ordered not to have any contact with the child during the pending criminal case.

The child's mother tells 21 News it's devastating to have this happen when you've entrusted your child's care to someone.  However, Underwood has no other criminal history, but state inspections of the daycare have raised concerns.

Now her license to operate could be in jeopardy.

Robert Bush, the director of Mahoning County Job and Family Services, says, "Our recommendation is immediate suspension of her license.  We don't issue that license.  We can not cancel that license, that's all a determination by the state."

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in Columbus will review the findings of Mahoning County JFS, including a statement from Underwood.  The state will take into consideration that she's been in operation since at least 2006, and has never had another serious violation.

But during an unannounced inspection on July 1st of this year, just days after the four-year-old was left unattended at Mill Creek MetroParks, Underwood had a finding of one serious violation related to the park incident.  Six low-risk violations, and four moderate-risk violations that are documented with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That includes that "she was allegedly caring for up to 13 children at one time,"  more than her license allows.  Plus, "underwood allegedly transported the exceeded limit of children for her vehicle."
Meanwhile, Esther White says she feels Underwood didn't mean any harm and eventually did return looking for the little girl.

"It felt like it was forever.  I don't think it was her intention to leave her, because the way she looked when she came back, she was like, 'Oh my goodness,' like she was a wreck.  But she was calm, but she was like where do I begin looking for this child," White said.

Bush says the bottom line is that something far more serious could have happened to the child after being left unattended, and that's why there are strict rules in place for home daycares.

"They put a lot of burden on those operators because you have children, and they're entrusted to you," Bush said.

A trust Underwood may now have to earn back.

Underwood did not return a request for comment.  Her husband also declined to talk to 21 News about the issue when asked before her arraignment. However, he did say they've been operating the daycare for a long time, and it was just a misunderstanding.

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