What happens next? Inside the investigation to JOY Early Learning Center after abuse allegations

GONZALES–After UWK‘s investigation into JOY Early Learning Center, many people are left wondering what will happen next. State and local agencies are aware of the investigation, and say they cannot comment on their internal investigation processes.

Where things stand

According to several concerned mothers, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Education and the Department of Child and Family Services have all received complaints related to Joy’s alleged misconduct.

Numerous parents are questioning the process by the agencies who they say they have filed reports with, such as the state and sheriff’s office. Parents haven’t received a clear answer as to which agency should be taking charge.

Two parents report to UWK that their call with the Department of Education was unproductive. The parents reported to DOE that their child was physically abused seven months ago, but there seemed to be no intervention from DOE. The mother stated she doesn’t understand why a location like Joy with so many infractions hasn’t been shut down. DOE representatives asked the parents to submit the documents and evidence they compiled involving other children. The parents tell UWK they’re upset because they submitted the documentation months ago.

“It just seems like they didn’t read the documents before, or they didn’t pay close enough attention to the details from the first time we submitted the documents,” stated the concerned parent.

Various agencies and their jurisdiction

There are many agencies involved in the prevention of child abuse when it comes to daycares. These agencies each play a unique role, but the question of who can enforce the law, is unclear.

APSO

Within APSO is the Juvenile Family Services Unit. This unit specializes in the prevention of crimes against juveniles within family life and school. Daycares do not fall squarely within either category under this unit, so it is unclear how much autonomy APSO has in this situation.

Additionally, per the DOE, “an early learning center must make immediate notification to law enforcement, if applicable, and DCFS within 24 hours, if there is a critical incident involving children in care.” This means that law enforcement may be contacted after an incident occurs, and places reporting requirements on the daycare.

Sheriff Webre provided this statement in a prior report:

The recent allegations of child abuse at a local day care are truly disheartening and concerning. I want to assure the families affected, and all our residents, that the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office is dedicated to taking every report seriously and conducting a thorough investigation. Our children, who will one day lead this great parish, deserve no less than a safe and nurturing space where they can learn, grow, and thrive.

Department of Education

The Department of Education handles the licensing of daycares and the compliance of daycares to its standards. This department investigates daycares and determines whether those daycares are meeting the minimum standards.

Per the Department, “A recommendation may be made citing the actions that triggered the decision to revoke a center’s license noted in Bulletin 137 Section 1301.A. A summary is compiled of all the center’s information for a review. If the decision is made to revoke, the provider receives a hand delivered notice that sites the reason(s) for revocation. The notice includes the timeframe and required steps to take in order to appeal the agency decision to revoke. The provider is allowed to operate during this process unless determined otherwise. If a timely appeal is received, a hearing before the Division Administration Law judge is held within 30 days from the notice. If the judge upholds the decision, the center must cease operation immediately. If the judge overturns the department’s decision, the center may continue to operate.

DCFS

DCFS works to protect children against abuse and/or neglect in Louisiana. Daycares must report to DCFS within 24 hours of potential abuse/neglect.

In a response to UWK, DCFS stated, “State law (R.S. 46:56) prevents DCFS from commenting on, or even acknowledging the existence of, a potential investigation into child abuse or neglect. Because early learning centers are licensed by the Louisiana Department of Education, any questions regarding the licensure of the facility would be directed there.”

Concerned mothers speak out

“As concerned mothers and members of our communities, we engaged with DCFS, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Education to address the egregious actions of Gabrielle and Vicki May at Joy Early Learning Center. We were disheartened to learn that despite concrete evidence of harm inflicted on children, authorities cited a lack of proof to intervene decisively. While DCFS emphasized swift action in cases of suspected neglect or abuse within homes, the same urgency was not extended to daycare facilities like Joy Early Learning Center, who is protected under the Department of Education. We implore authorities to prioritize the safety of our children and hold accountable those responsible for their wellbeing. Rehabilitation efforts for daycare facilities should not supersede the protection of innocent children. It’s time for enforcement agencies to reflect on their obligations to the community and rectify this disparity in response. When speaking to representatives from the Department of Education, they were unaware of any reported or ongoing issues. They cited recent role placement as a lack of knowledge. We won’t stop until our children, community, and governing entities are held to a higher standard.” -14 (and adding daily) concerned moms

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