Parents say state failed to protect baby who died at day care

By Dana Rebik | Q13 FOX News

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SEATTLE –  When Kyle and Amanda Uphold found out they were pregnant, it was one of the happiest times in their lives.

“It was the first for everybody, the first grandchild on both sides of the family so it was a big celebration,” said Amanda.

When baby Eve arrived on Dec. 8, 2012, the entire family was overjoyed.

“She was so calm and she just looked around and that really was who she was.  She observed everything.  As long as you were there with her holding her or hanging out with her, she was totally content,” said Amanda.

The Upholds both work.  Kyle is a Navy diver, and Amanda an accountant.  They needed day care and searched around online.  They found First Nest, a licensed in-home day care in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood run by Rhonda Hopson.

It wasn’t cheap — $1,550 per month — but they interviewed Hopson, checked her references and felt Eve would be safe there.

“She seemed to transition very well.  I didn’t see anything with Eve.  She was fine as far as her temperament and when we picked her up, I didn’t think there was a need to worry,” said Amanda.

But on May 2, when Eve was nearly 5-months-old, the unimaginable happened.  Hopson told investigators that she put Eve down for a nap around 12:50 p.m. in a portable crib in her basement.  Just after 2 p.m., Hopson said she heard the older children talking downstairs and went to check on Eve.  A police report shows she found her face down, not breathing, with a “purplish, squished face.”

“We wonder, how long did Eve cry?  Was Eve down there crying face down in the pack-n-play for 30 minutes?” asked Kyle Uphold.

State law requires sleeping babies be in day care providers’ line of sight and they are required to check on them frequently.  According to a Child Protective Services investigation, Hopson left Eve alone for at least an hour.

Hopson also admitted to police that she had swaddled Eve, wrapping her arms close to her body so they were unusable, and had a loose fitting waterproof pad in the crib.  Both violate state child care laws and, according to experts, increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which the King County medical examiner determined was the cause of Eve’s death

“It kind of took it from being, this is something that just happened, to this could have been prevented and someone is at fault,” said Amanda.

The most unbelievable thing about this story may be that this isn’t the first time this happened in Hopson’s day care.  In 2001, a 6-month-old boy died of SIDS in her home.  State documents reveal she put that baby to sleep in her own adult bed, surrounded by pillows and then actually left to go to a neighbor’s house.  Yet she retained her license and was still operating 12 years later when the Upholds left Eve in her care.

“The first thing I thought of were, what are the chances?” asked Kyle.

According to state records, Hopson is the only licensed day care provider to have had more than one child die in her care since 2000.

“You don’t give her a pat on the back and send her on her way until you figured out what happened with the first child, and that’s what caused me the most concern,” said Lincoln Beauregard, the Upholds’ attorney.

Even more alarming is the long history of multiple sleep-related violations at First Nest.  Department of Early Learning said its inspections found Hopson let children nap in car seats, which is a violation because it can restrict babies’ airways, increasing the risk for SIDS.

Investigators said they found she continued to swaddle children and put them to sleep in an unapproved corner of her basement, and in a dark bedroom downstairs, despite repeated warnings not to do so.  Some violations were corrected, but returned later in other inspections, investigators said.

In December 2012, just five months before Eve’s death, one inspector found 25 separate violations and that still wasn’t enough to shut her down.  Even though inspectors visited the home monthly between December and May, all the problems still weren’t fixed.

“What is the point of the inspections if they aren’t going to be enforced?” asked Kyle.

“We feel like a lot of people failed to do their jobs,” said Amanda.

Amy Blondin is the spokeswoman for the Department of Early Learning, the agency charged with inspecting and licensing all day cares in the state of Washington.  For legal reasons, she could not comment on the Uphold case specifically.

“We want to work with providers to make sure they’re offering safe, healthy care — but not be overly burdensome at the same time,” said Blondin.

“How do you handle those types of situations when you find the same thing happening over and over again?” asked Q13 FOX News reporter Dana Rebik.

“We try to work with providers and provide technical assistance to help them get to minimum licensing standards.  We want to help them succeed in their business,” said Blondin.

“That’s kind of infuriating,” said Amanda Uphold.  “It’s nice if the business succeeds, but if there are children at risk, that’s the issue.”

After Eve’s death, Child Protective Services found Hopson was negligent and revoked her license.  But apparently there is no guarantee she won’t get it back someday.

“It’s case-by-case, but if someone could demonstrate 10 years down the road they have somehow changed whatever the issue was, we would consider that,” said Blondin.

Efforts to contact Hopson over months for comment on this story were unsuccessful and she failed to respond to repeated emails, phone calls and a letter.

In December, Eve would have celebrated her first birthday.

“There’s no moving on or getting over this.  We just try to remember her.  We try to keep her alive and talk about her and say her name,” said Amanda.

They wear red every Sunday.  It was Eve’s color.  Red and lady bugs are the two small things that help keep their baby’s memory alive.  Her parents say they want justice for their precious baby girl, to make sure this never happens to anyone else.

“To just let it go would be doing Eve a disservice.  If somebody along the way would have stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we need to do something about this’, we would have had a different outcome and Eve still would have been here,” said Amanda.

The Upholds have retained Beauregard to represent them.  The attorneys have already filed a tort claim against the Department of Early Learning and Department of Social and Health Services.  The state has a window of time to respond before the Upholds will file a lawsuit against those agencies, as well as Hopson.

If you are concerned about your child’s day care, you can do a search of their inspection history on the Department of Early Learning’s Child Care Check.

To find a licensed provider, click here.

Before deciding on a day care, it’s a good idea to interview the provider and be prepared with a list of good questions.

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