'We were lucky' says Grand Forks mom of child injured in daycare center
For parents with concerns about their child's day care, Theresa Dietzler has a message: "Go on your instinct."
"I had an instinct before all this that something was going on, and even before it happened, I tried to take him out of there," the 27-year-old mother said.
In March 2009, Dietzler's 4-month-old son was shaken by his day care provider, causing him to suffer bleeding on his brain and a seizure. Dietzler and the provider, Marsha Brouillet, had been friends since they were infants.
"My best friend -- you'd think that'd be the person you could trust the most," Dietzler said.
Brouillet, who admitted to shaking Dietzler's son, was sentenced Tuesday to three months in jail, nine months on electronic home monitoring and three years of supervised probation.
Brouillet, 27, ran a day care out of her two-bedroom apartment in Grand Forks. Dietzler started taking her boy there in January 2009 when he was 9 weeks old. Eventually, she started having "uneasy feelings" about the situation.
"We were always getting phone calls about once week saying, 'Oh, you can't bring your son here because somebody's sick or something going on,'" Dietzler said. "So then, I started looking around for other day cares just because it was an inconvenience for us."
When Dietzler told Brouillet she and the boy's father, Joe Benjamin, had decided to pull their son from the day care, Brouillet became upset, Dietzler said. "Then, that next day is when he had a seizure," she said.
An exam at the hospital found that blood had collected on the surface of the boy's brain. He was hospitalized for two days and, in the following months, had to have his head and eyes checked periodically. So far, their boy, now 15 months old, hasn't suffered any long-term effects, his mom said.
"We were lucky," Dietzler said. "And she's lucky now that she's not being charged with murder."
Friends no more
When questioned by police, Brouillet said she was watching the boy and two other children at her apartment March 10 when the incident occurred.
"Mrs. Brouillet became very frustrated when all three children were crying and screaming while she was trying to make lunch, and the infant's cry is particularly piercing," an officer's report states.
Brouillet told police she picked up the boy, held him under his arms and begged him to be quiet. She said she shook the boy without supporting his head, "and she knows that is when the injury happened," the report reads. The next day, while having his diaper changed, he had a seizure, Brouillet told police.
The boy's parents say there's no excuse for what she did.
"If you're a day care provider, you should be able to handle stress," Dietzler said. "You put the baby down, and you walk away. That's all you can do."
Benjamin and Dietzler, who both work, said finding a new child care provider they could trust was difficult. But they started sending their little boy to another day care in April.
"And it's been great," Dietzler said.
"This lady we've found, she's wonderful with the kids," Benjamin said.
Benjamin and Dietzler, who had both known Brouillet since childhood, have ended their relationship with her, but ties linger; Benjamin and Brouillet's families go to the same church, and Dietzler's parents live a few blocks from Brouillet's.
"We all were close people, and now there's nothing," Dietzler said.
On Tuesday, state District Judge Lawrence Jahnke rejected a plea deal that called for Brouillet to serve six months on electronic home monitoring, opting for a stiffer sentence that included jail time. Dietzler and Benjamin, who opposed the plea deal, said they were pleased with the judge's decision.
Before Jahnke sentenced Brouillet on a child-abuse charge, Dietzler, who sat with Benjamin and more than a half-dozen supporters, tearfully addressed the court. "This is the hardest thing I've had to go through," the mother told the judge. "I could have lost my baby boy."
The judge then had Brouillet turn to face Dietzler and Benjamin.
"I didn't mean to do it. I'm sorry," Brouillet told them. "I don't know how many times I can say I'm sorry."
"I know, Marsha, but I could have lost him," Dietzler responded.
Jahnke ordered Brouillet to have no contact with children except her own while on probation and to register as an offender against children.
Because Brouillet cared for five or fewer kids, she was not required to have a license. However, she was a self-declared provider with paperwork on file. Her declaration was revoked Sept. 1, 2009, after an investigation, according to the state Human Services Department.
According to a Grand Forks County official, self-declared providers are not subject to inspections by county social service agencies, though they will investigate complaints. Self-declared providers must follow limited rules and agree to background checks. Brouillet did not have a prior criminal record, her attorney said in court.
Prosecutor Nancy Yon said as far as she knows, no other children at the day care suffered injuries. Dietzler said there's nothing to suggest her son was abused more than once.
Kate Kenna, regional director for Northeast Human Services, suggests parents looking for child care visit the home or facility and make sure it's safe. She also recommends that parents get to know a potential provider and talk with other parents before making a decision.
Lisa Hillesland of NEHS said parents can contact their county social service agencies, which inspect licensed day cares, to learn about a provider's licensing history. Agencies can tell parents about providers' past complaints, violations and correction orders, Hillesland said.
As Dietzler cautioned, "Just because they're registered or licensed doesn't mean that they're good."