A second home child-care provider in a month’s time has been sentenced to jail in Dakota County for placing a child in an unsafe sleep position that contributed to a death.
Rebecca Graupmann of Farmington will start serving a 30-day jail sentence next Monday, after pleading guilty Tuesday to felony manslaughter in the death of 3-month-old Kaiden Staebell. Graupmann violated state safe sleep regulations by placing the infant to sleep on a bed and initially tried to cover up that mistake.
The circumstances are eerily similar to last month’s sentencing of Beverly Greenagel, who is finishing her 45-day jail term linked to the August 2011 death of an infant at her former Eagan home day care. Both will be required in their sentences to serve probation terms and speak to other day-care providers in the county about avoiding the mistakes they had made.
Both infants’ deaths were part of an alarming increase in fatalities over the past decade in licensed family child-care homes. Child-care deaths in Minnesota have declined over the past year, however, because of tougher licensing restrictions and increased awareness of safe sleep positions.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the cases were difficult but the sentences would hopefully deter other child-care providers from cutting corners on safety.
“No one ever claimed Mrs. Graupmann intentionally caused any harm to this child,” Backstrom said, “but we did believe that her negligence constituted manslaughter.”
Beyond the proximity of the providers and sentencings, their cases also have the common thread of deceit — at least when the providers discovered the infants unresponsive.
Graupmann told police on July 31, the day of Kaiden Staebell’s death, that the infant had fallen asleep in a car seat after she fed him, according to law enforcement reports. When authorities later discovered a wet spot and blood on a comforter in an upstairs bedroom, Graupmann admitted to placing the infant to sleep on the bed. State authorities require licensed child-care providers to place infants to sleep on their backs in cribs — without thick blankets or toys — to reduce the risk of positional asphyxiation (a lack of breath because of one’s body position).
Graupmann admitted she took the infant downstairs after she found him unresponsive on his side and cold to the touch.
“It might be human nature to do that under the circumstances, but it nonetheless is of concern,” Backstrom said. “Ultimately, she said she freaked out and she was sorry for what she had done.”
Greenagel had similarly tried to conceal the unsafe sleep position in which she placed 3-month-old Dane Ableidinger — folding the fluffy blanket on which he died and telling an underage helper to lie to authorities that the infant had been in a crib. Those circumstances contributed to Greenagel’s 45-day jail sentence, which is scheduled to end this Friday.
Backstrom had been considering charges in a third death involving a Hastings provider who placed an infant to sleep on his stomach on a blanket on the floor in early 2013. But Backstrom said the medical examiner recently ruled the death due to sudden infant death syndrome — not positional asphyxia. He then informed the infants’ parents he wouldn’t be able to prosecute the provider whose license has been revoked.
Kaiden Staebell died after 12 days at Graupmann’s home. His parents had been excited at first, living next to Graupmann and getting to know her as a neighbor before choosing her as their child-care provider. Mother Nicole Staebell wrote a detailed list of her son’s needs and patterns, specifically stating that Kaiden should sleep on his back and to watch him because he pulled blankets over his head during naps.
“I was very firm with her about where he was to be sleeping,” Staebell said last month. “I don’t think that she meant for anything horrible to happen to our son. However, a choice was made. It was a bad choice. She shouldn’t have done it.”
The Staebells moved to Wisconsin, gaining some sense of normalcy nine months ago when their second child, Jaxton, was born. Graupmann’s guilty plea also helped, as it meant responsibility for their son’s death had been taken. Still, they struggled with the punishment for someone who meant no malice but made a tragic mistake. They hoped the sentence would motivate providers to be vigilant about safety and safe sleeping.
“What is just?” Kaiden’s mother asked. “It’s a hard thing to answer, other than that I’m hoping this situation never happens again to another family.”