Stearns County day-care provider loses license

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE and JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 2, 2012 - 11:03 PM

The suspension in Stearns County came after a boy died, the year's seventh death at an in-home child-care center in Minnesota.

State child-care regulators have suspended the license of a Stearns County provider for unsafe sleep practices in the wake of the seventh in-home day-care death in Minnesota this year.

Provider Joan Wenning, who operates a facility out of her home in Holdingford, Minn., said that when she went upstairs one day in May to check on a sleeping child in her care, she found he had stopped breathing. But she declined to discuss additional details of the death or to reveal the age of the child.

"It's considered a SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome]," she said by phone Monday afternoon, adding that she has been haunted by nightmares since the child's death. "I didn't do anything wrong."

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said Monday that she did not have information about the death, other than to confirm that one had occurred. Stearns County Human Services Administrator Mark J. Sizer also did not have details when contacted late Monday afternoon. He said additional information possibly will be available Tuesday.

Wenning said she was notified of the temporary suspension when a sheriff's deputy delivered the order to her home Friday night. On Saturday, an order arrived in the mail citing her for an unsafe sleep practice unrelated to the child's death.

She said it took Stearns County regulators approximately a month after the death before they arrived at her home for an inspection or to ask questions about the death. During that visit, a county inspector spotted a baby sleeping in its car seat with a blanket over the legs. That incident, unrelated to the death in May, was what was cited in the mailed order she received Saturday, she said.

The timeline of response from Stearns County regulators and the state, as outlined by Wenning, raises questions about regulators' response in the wake of the child's death.

A recent Star Tribune investigation into child care deaths found a spike in day-care deaths over the past five years, a significant number of which involved unsafe sleep practices. All the deaths in licensed child care this year have occurred around sleeping children at in-home providers.

Wenning said that on the day the child died, emergency personnel arrived and she told law enforcement investigators what had happened.

She contacted county regulators to report the death the day after it occurred. Wenning said she filled out a form that arrived by mail a few days later and sent it back immediately. She said county regulators told her to keep doing what she was doing unless she heard otherwise from them, but weeks went by without her hearing anything, not even a phone call.

Wenning said her day-care operation was in a self-imposed shutdown for about a month to deal with the emotional trauma from the death. It reopened June 25. That's when a county inspector showed up to ask questions and inspect her facility. The operation was not shut down until Friday.

"They should have told me the first day I called what they expected, but they didn't," Wenning said. "These day-care providers need to know right away what to do, not a month later. ... I waited and waited."

Wenning has been a licensed family child-care provider since 1991, according to DHS licensing records. She is licensed to care for 12 children, and said she was at full capacity. No prior licensing actions against her are listed on the DHS licensing website, which goes back only to mid-2010.

Wenning said she plans to appeal the suspension, but doesn't know if she'll ever fully recover from losing a child in her care.

"You will always feel responsible for what happened at your home," she said. "It's a very heavy burden to carry. I'll have to carry it for the rest of my life."

brad.schrade@startribune.com • 612-673-4777 jeremy.olson@startribune.com • 612-673-7744

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