LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A day care owner is fighting to get her license back after the state shut her center down for reporting child abuse allegations too late.
The state shut down the Amazing Journey Child Care Center in Lexington in June, saying the facility failed to report suspected child abuse of a 1-year-old fast enough. However, months after their investigation, the Cabinet For Health and Human Services Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) issued a report saying, "there is currently no evidence to support that this child was injured at the day care."
It took years for LuvShenda Howard to fulfill her childhood dream of opening a day care center and less than six months to lose it.
"Here I am, thirty, and I've lost it all for doing the right thing," said Howard.
On March 4, 2022, Howard says a staff member at her facility noticed a 1-year-old had dry patches throughout her scalp on her head. Howard says when she was made aware, she reached out to her Child Care Aware Coach, a mentor through the statewide regional network for Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) services, who supports and advises new child care providers.
She says her coach advised her to do her own investigation and was advised to "not go around making assumptions or insinuating any abuse without doing my own investigation". So, she says she sent the photos to the child's mom and followed up with a phone call. She says the mom blamed a pitbull at the home and says her Child Care Aware Coach said, in part, "see, that was innocent, you can't go around threatening CPS without knowing the story."
On March 7, 2022, Howard says her staff noticed new bruising and she reached out to the mother again, before deciding to officially call the abuse hotline.
In a call to the abuse hotline that LEX 18 obtained, Howard can be heard telling an employee, "I'm just trying to protect myself because I don't know what kind of bruises these are and I know some people can have allergic reactions or anything, but I just wanted to cover myself by at least calling to make a report."
State investigators say Howard violated regulations by not reporting what she saw as soon as she noticed on a Friday.
The two parties disagree on the timeline and what specifically was reported. The Child Care Aware Coach also denies telling Howard what she alleges.
In a statement, a spokesperson wrote, "The University of Kentucky has responded to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and others that the Child Care Aware representative advised LuvShenda Howard that she was required to report any possibility of suspected child abuse and that this conversation was confirmed by the Child Care Aware representative's supervisor. UK and its Human Development Institute have cooperated with all agencies during this investigation and have repeatedly and consistently conveyed the information that refutes Howard's claims."
However, two weeks after Howard's report, the child was admitted to a hospital for a serious head injury. An investigation was initiated into The Amazing Journey immediately after.
The results of their investigation are that the allegations are "unsubstantiated" but that the child's head trauma "may have been prevented had the day care followed mandated reporting laws."
Howard is still going through the court process of appealing the revoking of her license due to the allegations of waiting too late to report.
LuvShenda's Howard's Case
Howard feels like the main issue lies with wrong advice given by her Child Care Aware coach and that the rules on reporting are open to individual interpretation because of how the law is written in KRS 600.020.
"I feel that — who is the state to tell me what child abuse is when the rules and regulations clearly state that child abuse is what you feel that it is," said Howard.
The State's Case
The Cabinet for Health and Human Services did not respond to our request for comment. However, the investigators argued in their report, "A reasonable prudent person would be able to draw a correlation between (the child's) injuries and the behaviors observed in the weeks prior as a precursor to (the child's) head injury found on 3/19/22."
After months of fighting the allegations in court and thousands of dollars spent trying to appeal the state's decision and get her license back, Howard is waiting for her next day in court. She's on the verge of eviction and struggling to keep up with bills due to the closure.
"It's painful, it's hard. It's like a never-ending nightmare," said Howard. "From working two or three jobs, having two children, paying on a building that's $2,745 a month. I pay for the gas, the electric there. I also have my own bills, car — it's been a struggle."
Howard's attorney says they haven't heard from the judge since December 20 and are waiting for a hearing date. If they lose their appeal, she'll have to wait seven years to reopen.
She's still hoping to reopen one day.