LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The time is fleeting. The moments, precious. And the letting go, necessary.
"I have to work to take care of my family. I have to trust people with my child," said Ashley Causey, holding back tears.
When Causey, a pharmacy technician, had to put her baby daughter, Janelle, in daycare, she chose KinderCare on Torrey Pines Drive and Flamingo Road.
Janelle's tears turned to smiles as she adjusted to her new surroundings. Then...
"This incident happened and made me question everything," said Causey. "This is a working mother's worst nightmare."
On Aug. 13, according to a report later filed with police, an administrator told Causey that Janelle was "mishandled" by a teacher while trying to put her down for a nap.
"When I pick her up, she's wincing in pain," Causey recalled.
It was only after Causey got home that she learned just how bad it was.
"Under her ribs, wrapping her ribs, she has whole human hand marks bruising on her back. You can see each finger and hand on her back. And she had bruising on her head. I lost it."
Emergency room records show Janelle had a chest wall contusion--meaning the muscles between her ribs were bruised.
Hospital records describe it as a painful condition because every breath moves the injured area.
During the doctor's exam, Causey said, "She screamed. I've never heard her scream that way."
KinderCare wouldn't tell Causey who hurt Janelle but state child care licensing records name Karla Garcia.
KinderCare did self-report the incident to the state and also did their own internal investigation.
Records show another teacher witnessed Garcia "abruptly forcing two children to lay down... while yelling."
"Slammed down, face down, and it was witnessed that she was hitting them on their backs," is how Causey says it was described to her.
The teacher who reported Garcia to the center director wrote: "As I was watching, Karla [Garcia] slammed [the babies] down onto their cots and pushed their bottoms down very aggressively and with lots of anger.
The kids were crying." She added, "This is getting out of hand and I am starting to feel very uncomfortable," indicating it wasn't an isolated incident.
"You have a one-year-old baby who can't talk, who can't defend themselves!" Causey said through tears.
Six teachers independently interviewed in KinderCare's internal investigation said they'd seen Karla Garcia "constantly yelling inappropriately at the children" and handling the babies "heavily," "roughly" and "aggressively."
Also, "not providing explanation for 'incidents' with the children."
And one wrote, "In her current mental state, I do not think she should work with children."
Yet none of them reported any of that to the center directors until Janelle and the other baby were injured.
"It seems like this teacher may have been a ticking time bomb and a lot of people knew it," Darcy Spears said to Denise Tanata of the non-profit group Children's Advocacy Alliance.
"And I think it's important that... Obviously someone in the childcare center finally spoke up--another teacher saw enough that raised red flags," Tanata responded.
Garcia herself claims she raised a red flag in a statement she wrote during the internal investigation.
At the time, she alone was responsible for nine children under the age of two--a violation of state ratio requirements.
Garcia wrote: "I have said more than once to more that one person in management that that room is too much for me. A person of my age."
But she didn't believe she did anything wrong with Janelle or the other baby, saying she was just "being firm."
Garcia did not respond to our attempts to reach her.
"It's a red flag. Not only for this center but I think for other child care centers to look at," Tanata said.
"Do their staffs have the support that they need? Are they in the right place? Do they need to make some adjustments so these teachers aren't getting stressed out to the point where they're acting out on the kids?"
KinderCare fired Karla Garcia.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Abuse/Neglect detail investigated her and the case is now in the District Attorney's hands. She has not been criminally charged.
The state cited KinderCare for "inappropriate discipline" and required all the center's directors and caregivers to get more training in recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect.
But this is not the first time the center has been cited.
Records from 2017, 2018 and 2019 document failures in teacher training, proper staffing, supervision, support and safety.
So how do parents protect their children and what do you look for in a daycare?
Tanata recommends looking at the state website for licensing.
There you can find inspection reports, complaints and supporting documents for incidents like Janelle's.
And when talking to center directors, ask questions.
"Do they have an open-door policy--so can parents come into the facility at any time and go see their kids? If there's ever a point where they're denied access, that's something that they might want to question. Also, some centers now have cameras on site where you can log in remotely and watch your kid, so at any time you can see them. That's another good quality to look for."
KinderCare says, "Due to privacy reasons" their centers do not have cameras.
Tanata says, "The biggest thing is intuition. If it doesn't feel right it might not be. And I think that's the other piece too--being an engaged parent. Having conversations with the teachers in the classroom. Knowing who they are. And just getting a feel for their personality."
KinderCare refused to go on camera and would only provide a written statement, which says:
At KinderCare, the safety and well-being of the children in our care is our highest priority. We work hard each day to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children to learn and grow in.
"The teacher involved in this incident no longer works at KinderCare. As soon as this concern was brought to our attention in August, we immediately put this teacher on leave and informed the child’s family. We also notified state licensing and other agencies and worked closely with them throughout the investigation. We provide rigorous training to our teachers across the country on all aspects of childcare – from child safety and nutrition to proper supervision. To help prevent situations like this from happening in the future, we’ve retrained all of the center’s teachers on mandated reporting.
As for Janelle, she's back in daycare at a new school, and mom says, "It's been a rough transition for her. She's not the same."
Causey continues to fight for accountability.
"There has to be justice for this situation, not only for my baby but for other babies," she said.
Other resources for parents: