A Channel 4 investigation reveals a shocking chain of events that includes a toddler, a day care playground and a used condom. The little girl did what many 3-year-olds would do when they find something on the ground: she put it in her mouth.
This happened in December 2011 at the day care which is part of the Head Start program run by the Jacksonville Urban League on Ionia Street. It is also the site of the city’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Center and Park. This incident has resulted in an entire year’s worth of fear and worry for her mother that the child has a sexually transmitted disease or possibly HIV because the condom tested positive for gonorrhea and it can take up to a year for these kinds of diseases to show up.
The child’s mom, Tiesha Sanders, was there on the playground that day and saw what happened. Now, she’s hired an attorney and plans to sue the Jacksonville Urban League because she says she wants to make sure other children won’t be exposed to the same danger that has changed her daughter’s life.
"I just really didn't want that to happen to my baby,” said Sanders. “If it happens to my daughter, it can happen to yours."
During an interview with Channel 4 anchor and reporter Adrienne Moore, Sanders cried while talking about that morning at the day care. She says she brought her daughter there and watched as she ran toward the slide and a group of children.
“I lift up my head and I saw her put something in her mouth and I was like, ‘get that out of your mouth!’ And someone said see what she had in her mouth and that's when I found out she had a condom in her mouth," explained Sanders.
During the interview when Adrienne asked Sanders what was going through her mind when she realized what her daughter had put in her mouth she said, “Honestly, I was like what the hell is that? I was very upset, I was shaking, I was crying."
After grabbing her daughter from the slide area, Sanders washed her mouth out with water and says she then called the Centers for Disease Control. After that, she says she took her to the emergency room at Baptist Medical Center where she not only had her little girl checked out, but had that condom tested too.
"The first test was the condom and it tested positive for a form of gonorrhea,” said Richard Alexander, Sanders’ attorney.
"It's bad enough you hear the first part that she had this in her mouth and then you hear that it tests positive for gonorrhea, and it's like, it's just a nightmare for a parent," he said.
Medical records provided to us by Alexander show doctors put the little girl through a series of invasive tests including rectal, vaginal and throat exams. Alexander says these test are repeated every four months so doctors can rule out the possibility of HIV and other diseases that sometimes take up to a year to show up.
According to Florida’s Administrative Code for Childcare Standards, a facility’s outdoor play area “…shall be clean, free from litter, nails, glass and other hazards…” also “…fenced to prevent access by children to all water hazards…” and “…free from toxic substances and hazardous materials.”
The incident that occurred with Sanders’ daughter was never reported to the Department of Children and Families. And, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, no police report was ever filed. In fact, neither agency knew about the incident until Channel 4 started investigating. However, DCF tells us the day care was not required to report it.
"We certainly recognize the concern parents would have about an incident like this. We inspect childcare facilities at least three times a year," said John Harrell with the Department of Children and Families.
Harrell says DCF has cited this Ionia Street day care facility five times for unrelated, minor violations in the last two years.
"There was a health exam where the child's shot record had been expired, and there was information that was missing on a child's enrollment form, and finally on a playground there was some rusty chains noted on a swing on this playground," said Harrell as he explained the previous citations.
Once Channel 4 notified DCF and started asking questions about how a major incident like this could happen, DCF’s Childcare Licensing Department launched an investigation into this case. It found the facility was not in compliance with Florida code the day this happened and was cited for posing “…a threat to the health, safety or well-being of the children due to the presence of hazardous items.”
Despite this citation, the day care will not be fined this time. Channel 4 is told it’s because this violation is a first offense. But, if it gets similar violations in the next two years, the facility could face a $50 fine, an amount set by the state.
As part of the investigation, DCF interviewed several people involved including the day care’s director. According to the report, the director stated “…she and her staff check and clean the area each day before the children go out, as they are aware that the park is utilized by the public after they leave. Adding that this day was no different.”
In addition to keeping the playground clean, Sanders says the other problem is access. The day care center is connected to Robert F. Kennedy Park and on the occasions that Channel 4 was there, the gates were wide open, allowing anyone to come inside the day care playground.