2 Midlands daycare employees arrested, accused of inciting children to fight each other
NEWBERRY COUNTY, S.C. – (WIS) Two Newberry County day care workers accused of encouraging children to slap and hit each other were granted bond with conditions on Thursday.
Ericka Serai’ Jones, 27, faces 14 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and 14 counts of unlawful conduct toward a child.
Serena Caldwell, 56, faces 15 of those same counts.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said the daycare employees “encouraged and directed other students to fight or exhibit violence toward other students and allowed the violence to proceed without correction.”
The pair worked at Kids Unlimited in Prosperity.
According to the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO), the incident came to light when one of the children at the day care told a parent last month that they were asked to hit another child.
The daycare immediately alerted the Sheriff’s Office, and fired Jones and Caldwell.
At that point, NCSO, along with the South Carolina Department of Social Services, began an investigation into the matter.
A magistrate judge granted Jones a $56,000 surety bond, and Caldwell a $60,000 surety bond Thursday afternoon.
As requested by the Sheriff’s Office, conditions of their release include: they are to not contact the victims in this case, they cannot contact any minors who may be in need of care and they cannot leave the state without permission from the solicitor’s office.
Foster said that none of the children’s injuries were serious, but the emotional toll could be long-lasting.
“What were you thinking?” he asked incredulously. “I have no idea who would think that that was any way appropriate to encourage three and four-year-old children to participate in violent acts, regardless of what they thought it would do.”
The incident report lists at least 14 juvenile victims, between the ages of three and four.
The children were by Jones and Caldwell told to slap, push, shove and hit other children at Kids Unlimited as a “means of punishment or to entice them to follow rules,” Foster said.
“It was a situation where they were participating in it by encouraging the kids, and they kind of looked at it as something maybe almost equivalent to a sporting event where they were kind of trying to motivate the kids into participating in that,” he said.
In addition to inciting the children to fight, Caldwell is accused of striking one of the young children with a box of baby wipes.
An incident report states that Jones may have recorded the incident on her phone.
A situation like this with such young children is extraordinarily rare, according to Foster.
“We’ve had daycare workers that have assaulted children, and daycare workers that may have taken punishment a bit too far, but nothing like this,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
Foster called these two individuals “rogue employees,” and does not believe Kids Unlimited had any complicity in this.
“The daycare did exactly what the law says and maybe more, they went above board,” he said. “When they found out about it, they didn’t intend to take care of this on their own.”
By notifying NCSO and DSS, the daycare was following mandated reporting procedures, according to Foster.
Foster added that Kids Unlimited has been cooperating with investigators.
One parent of a victim, who wished to remain anonymous, said she does not believe this is indicative of a culture at Kids Unlimited.
“I hate that these two women kind of tarnished the name of this daycare,” she said in an interview. “But at the same time, I’m glad that it was caught and they will have to serve justice. But at the end of the day, there’s no real justice because how do you remove that from a child’s head? You’ve altered their life.”
Some parents of victims said that despite initial reservations, they will continue to send their children to Kids Unlimited.
John David Dawkins, who has owned Kids Unlimited for more than 29 years, said in a statement: “It was brought to the attention of our senior staff members that possible offensive behavior by two staff members may have occurred. After viewing security camera footage the two staff members were immediately terminated. South Carolina Dept. of Social Services and The Newberry County Sheriff’s Dept. were also immediately notified. Any further comments about the investigation will be coming from those two agencies.”
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