OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — An Ottawa County mother is sharing her story in hopes of helping other parents after her toddler was left behind by teachers while he was at daycare. She said the situation could have been much worse if it weren't for another mother who stepped in.
Christina Carpenter reached out to 13 On Your Side to investigate because she said the daycare "dropped the ball" every step of the way.
"I trust these people with my child, and they broke that trust," said Carpenter. "They put my child in harm's way."
On Friday, Oct. 21, Carpenter saw a Facebook post that said a toddler had been seen left alone outside of Horizon Kids Complex Little Explorers daycare in Jenison a few days earlier. Just hours later, she learned it was her own son, 18-month-old Kenny.
"My heart dropped," Carpenter said, "and I started crying."
Kenny was unharmed, but she wanted to know how it all happened.
The person who could answer all of her questions was another Jenison mother, who asked to remain anonymous. For this story, we'll call her Jane.
On Oct. 18, Jane went to the Horizon Little Explorers daycare to drop off a deposit for her own 18-month-old son who was set to start there in a few weeks.
As she was coming out, she saw a class of about seven toddlers walking along the sidewalk next to the parking lot going from the the far side of the building to the outdoor play area. That distance is a little less than half a football field in length.
"The three employees were walking ahead of the children," Jane said, "and I watched them walk into the play area and shut the gate, not realizing a little boy was still outside fence, unattended."
She said she thought for sure they'd notice, but she kept an eye on him from her car just in case.
"I probably only waited about a minute or two, but that's enough for a year-and-a-half-year-old," said Jane.
She picked up the little boy and carried him over to the teachers in the outdoor play area.
"I said, 'are you missing somebody,?' and they told me they had just started a head count," Jane remembered, "and they were just very nonchalant about the whole thing, not seeming concerned and with no real remorse or anything."
Jane walked inside the building to speak to the owner, but she wasn't there, so she called her and said, "don't run my credit card, my son's not going to be attending here."
Jane left a Google review, and the owner, Amy, wrote back that same day.
"She apologized for the incident," Jane said, "telling me they were sorry they lost my trust, and that this shouldn't have happened, and kind of left it at that."
"Then I was worried the mom wouldn't find out," she added.
Two days later, Jane made a public Facebook post explaining what happened.
"I wasn't trying to ruin anyone's business by any means," Jane said, "I just thought the mom should know."
That's when she heard from Christina Carpenter, who had seen her post. Carpenter sent Jane a picture of Kenny.
"That's when she said she was quite certain that it was my son that she had found on Wednesday," Carpenter remembered. "My heart literally dropped to my stomach."
Carpenter said she was so grateful that Jane had been there when it all happened, and that it's rare for parents to be at the school at that time.
"It was like all the stars were aligning to make sure nothing happened to him," said Carpenter.
"I'm so glad nothing happened to Kenny," she added, "but there are so many scenarios that something could have."
The daycare sits just off of Port Sheldon Street, and has a retention pond in the front. There is also a semi-truck repair shop just across the street.
"I'm just so thankful that there was an honest mother there to help him," Carpenter said.
Carpenter immediately reached out to the school that Friday she found out and they responded only via email verifying that this had happened, that they were very sorry and two staff members had been put on unpaid leave.
"They didn't notify me, and they never let me know anything that was going on," she said, "even though they admitted this had happened days earlier."
On Friday evening, the daycare sent an email to all of the families who had children in the daycare, explaining their new safety procedures, but there was no context or information as to why that email had been sent or anything about the incident that had taken place.
After a frustrated request by Carpenter, Horizon's owner finally reached out to her on Saturday.
"She apologized, and was mortified of what happened," Carpenter said.
The worst part for both mothers, they said, is that the school never told Carpenter about what had happened until she asked them directly, days later.
"I kind of feel like they were trying to cover up what happened," Carpenter said. "It might have been completely different if they had reached out to me and told me what happened the day it happened, and we probably wouldn't be in this situation."
"If this didn't get reported, how many more times would it have happened, and would the next child be safe?," she added. "Every parent just deserves to know the truth."
The two said they were also extremely frustrated that about a week later, the school sent another email to the daycare families, claiming that "one of the children let go of a staff member's hand while walking to the playground area."
"I was angry when the facility started lying about the incident, saying that they were all holding hands and one of them let go," Jane said, "because I was there, and that's not what happened."
"Mistakes happen, and that's okay," she added, "but to lie about it and cover it up made it seem even worse, and I definitely wouldn't want to send my son there."
In a statement sent to 13 On Your Side, Horizon Learning Center said the following:
"Horizon Learning Center is fully aware of the incident that occurred and we are greatly disappointed that we were unable to prevent it. Please know that Horizon has policies and procedures in place that all staff have been trained on to prevent these types of scenarios from happening. Unfortunately, a staff member did not follow protocol and it resulted in a child being unsupervised for a short period of time. We are working closely with state licensing officials and following all of their recommendations to ensure that this never happens again. The safety and well being of the children in our care is and always has been our number one priority. After receiving recommendations from licensing, we have terminated the employee."
Kenny and Jane's son are both now enrolled in a new preschool in Jenison and will be in the same class. Both mothers say they are excited about the new school.
"I never do this kind of thing," Carpenter said, "I just really thought every parent that has a child there deserves to know really what happened."
Carpenter said she reported the situation to the Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and claims that it had not been reported to the state within 24 hours, as the law states.
Carpenter added that LARA told her that the daycare has been operating on a provisionary license, which they explain "may be issued to a child care organization which is temporarily unable to conform to the rules."
Records in LARA's database showed that in August, Horizon Little Explorers was investigated because several of their employees had not been properly fingerprinted or background-checked.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.