We all assume that when we drop our children off at daycare for the day, they will be safe within the care of the employees who work there. We like to believe, that while our children are being watched, the people watching them will give them at least some of the love and attention that we ourselves would if we were able.
Sometimes though, the trust we implicitly place in these mostly-dedicated child care workers can be broken in the most unexpected ways imaginable….
Peace of Mind
In this day and age, it’s not uncommon for busy parents to have to drop their children off at daycare establishments during the work week. As a parent, you want to have peace of mind about these places, knowing your child is in a secure building with locked entries and secure sign ins. Kiddie Junction in Des Plaines, Illinois, offers these things as part of their slogan.
So when parents of the kids within the daycare center found themselves receiving unbidden calls from the police in the middle of the work week, about the aforementioned, “respectable establishment”, they were understandably worried. Parent Edi Kulasic didn’t know what to think when he got that call. “When they called me, as soon as they said they were at the school, my heart dropped…”
Mr. Kulasic had chosen Kiddie Junction because of its reputation. He had been assured that the place was an educational institute rather than a day-care center. Knowing that the teachers there used, as they put it, “The latest child development research to instill a lifelong love of learning in its tiny clients.” made him feel that his child was more than safe in their hands.
Call the Police
As it happened, Mr. Kulasic’s child and all the others, were not in safe hands at all, not really. The owner and director of the daycare center had called the police after having come back to the building to find a nearly empty bottle of medicine in the staff room cabinets. The police were already on their way before they pulled the employees aside for questioning…
Children aren’t easy to care for, especially toddlers, and especially when they’re fussy and won’t go down for a nap. So what do you do when can’t get a 2-year-old to settle down for a nap? Well, a few staff members at Kiddie Junction had an idea, albeit, an ill-conceived and potentially dangerous one.
Kristen, Jessica, and Ashley all thought they had an idea of how to easily get the Kiddie Junction kids a way to nap well, restfully, every time. It wasn’t that they wanted a longer break, they just wanted to make sure the kids were well-rested and not cranky when their parents came to pick them up. It was a medicinal remedy, but one that was not meant for two year olds…
The idiotic daycare workers had given the children candy, but not just any candy: gummy bears dosed with melatonin. This over-the-counter sleep-hormone supplement is typically used to help induce sleep in people with insomnia. It wasn’t Nyquil or any other sort of stronger, drowsiness-causing cough syrup, but it wasn’t a bright idea either.
How it Works
Melatonin is naturally produced by the body to begin the process of sleeping. It is usually produced around the same time each day on its own, but the three daycare workers handed the sleep aid to the toddlers at naptime, which instead of leaving them all rested and happy for their parents, would actually ruin bedtime because their bodies would have believed that the evening had already passed much earlier in the day. It was something parents hadn’t noticed…
Not a Problem
Kristen, Jessica, and Ashley were being picked up by the police when Mr. Kulasic and the other parents arrived to get their children. They told police that they didn’t think the gummies would be harmful because they weren’t prescription or anything. The gummies were a simple, over-the-counter product, but one that was only meant to be taken by people over the age of 16.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements like melatonin and generally, they aren’t super strict about over-the-counter-drugs, but that didn’t mean there was no inherent danger. Melatonin is generally safe, but the Mayo Clinic and other such establishments warn of interactions with other drugs, which some of the children may or may not have been taking…
The melatonin hormone can negatively interact with drugs for seizures, diabetes medications and anticonvulsants in neurologically disabled children. If any of the children under their care had been taking these medications, the melatonin could have seriously affected them, causing serious side-effects and even death in extreme cases.
What’s worse is that neither Kristen, Jessica, nor Ashley had received permission from the owner of the daycare to administer the drugs, which they surely would not have granted. And they certainly hadn’t had permission from the parents to give their kids melatonin-laced gummies either. The concerned parents wondered how long this “scheme” had been going on…
Probably a While
It wasn’t clear how long the drugging was going on of course. In fact, the only indication the police or the managers over at Kidding Junction had of the time frame was that the formerly 120-count bottle of Walgreens-brand Melatonin only had four gummies left in it. It’s possible some of the women took them home to try them out themselves, but even then…that’s a lot of forced naptime.
It also turned out that Kristen, Jessica, and Ashley may not have been alone in their sleepytime scheme. The police began a thorough investigation of the facility and found that at least two other staff members have also been handing out the gummies as well. While the police dug into who these accomplices were, the three main culprits were hauled in…
32-year-old Kristen Lauletta, 19-year-old Jessica Heyse, and 25-year-old Ashley Helfenbein were arrested and charged with two counts each of endangering the life or health of a child and two counts each of battery. They were also terminated as a result of their behavior. As for two dozen or so children in their car…
No Negative Effects
None of the 2-year-olds formerly in their care appeared to be negatively affected by the melatonin gummies. Mr. Kulasic and the other parents did remark that the children seemed a little groggy when they were picked up, but have noticed no other side effects. Unfortunately, some effects may still rear their ugly heads in the long run…
While it’s true that a melatonin overdose isn’t fatal, it’s important to understand that it is still a hormone, which affect children much more than they do adults. An excess of melatonin in children can affect puberty and disrupt menstrual cycles. Ultimately, it can impede normal hormonal development which might not show for years.
In the meantime, news outlets have been inundating Kiddie Junction with phone call after phone call, trying to get them to shed some light on the three guilty parties or their plans for the future. The management has remained quiet thus far. As for Kristen, Jessica, and Ashley…
The three women are scheduled to appear in court on April 4, 2018 but have all been released on bail. Child Services has also begun an investigation into the women themselves and Kiddie Junction as a whole, just to be sure nothing else was going on. Though the consensus thus far is that there were just a few bad apples in the bunch.
If the girls had done any research whatsoever, besides a surface-level Google search, they would have known the potential long-term ramifications of their actions, and might have thought twice. “This is just a horrible case of bad judgment,” explained Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. That is, of course, an understatement.