Monday, June 22, 2015

Lower Southampton daycare case highlights loophole in child protection law

Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A former Lower Southampton day care worker accused of roughing up a toddler might be able to work with children again, according to the state agency that oversees child care services.
Also, future employers — and parents — might not be able to find out that Nataliya Manzyk was once accused of dragging and throwing across the floor a child she was supervising.

The situation highlights a loophole in the state law that is designed to protect children, according to two Pennsylvania child advocates.
Nataliya Manzyk
Earlier this month, 38-year-old Manzyk, of Lower Southampton, was placed in a special probation program, called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, that is typically reserved for nonviolent first-time offenders.
If she successfully completes ARD, Manzyk — who was charged with simple assault, child endangerment and harassment — can petition to have her criminal record expunged, meaning her arrest won’t show up in a criminal background check. A person accepted into the ARD program doesn’t plead guilty.
The newspaper wasn’t successful in reaching Bucks County prosecutor Megan Stricker, who handled the case, for comment on why Manzyk was accepted into ARD. But Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub said the outcome was a plea bargain that resulted from some “factual issues” with the case.
“This is the best result we could achieve,” Weintraub said.
After the child’s parents reported the alleged Jan. 7 assault, police watched surveillance video of Manzyk grabbing the child from behind and throwing him across the floor at the Sunshine Daycare in the 500 block of Harding Avenue, according to court documents.
Police allege Manzyk was also seen on surveillance video dragging the toddler “an extensive distance” across the room by the hood of his sweatshirt. The force of being dragged injured the child’s neck and cheek, police added.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which oversees child care services, was notified about the abuse complaint, according to online inspection records. Not only was Manzyk terminated, but an unidentified assistant in the same class was also terminated for failing to report it as required under state law, according to the reports.
As part of her agreement with the court, Manzyk cannot work in the day care field during the two years she is on supervised ARD, her attorney, Louis Busico, said. She also must complete 10 hours of community service.
Busico said he requested the DA consider his client for the probation program, calling her an “excellent candidate.” He added that the District Attorney’s Office did a thorough investigation into Manzyk’s background and circumstances surrounding the case before concluding she was appropriate for ARD.
“They did their homework and concluded this was the appropriate result,” Busico added. “She is an outstanding mother and wife, with no criminal history. She is exactly the kind of person the ARD program was designed for.”
A Human Services spokeswoman confirmed that if Manzyk completes ARD and petitions to erase her criminal record, she would pass the state-required criminal background check for people who work with children. But if the child abuse report against her had been substantiated, it would show up on a child abuse clearance report notifying a potential employer that she was identified on a physical abuse report, Diana Fishlock, DHS deputy press secretary said.
All child care center workers in Pennsylvania are required to undergo a criminal background check, child abuse clearance and FBI fingerprint check.
The general public, though, has no way of knowing if a child care worker has been indicated as involved in substantiated child abuse because the disposition of the case is confidential, Fishlock added. Access to the information is restricted to authorized personnel, such as a potential employer, under the state’s Child Protective Services law.
That lack of information disturbs Diana Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, a nonprofit statewide organization that advocates for early childhood care and education programs. She was equally stunned to learn that a day care worker accused of abuse would be eligible for ARD.
“I’ve never heard of that process being applied to what would be considered child abuse,” she added. “And given a heightened awareness of child abuse here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am surprised.”
Barber recommended parents who are looking for daycare or early childhood education programs review the state inspection records of a center before signing up their child. The inspection records and complaint and citation histories are available online through the state’s Child Care Provider Search engine.
The Manzyk case demonstrates why criminal and child abuse checks are performed for child care workers, added Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Protect Our Children Committee. But, she added, if all other elements of the law work the way they should — and an investigation found someone perpetrated child abuse — that information should appear in a child abuse screening.
“There are some loopholes, which is why we have to be careful to not think background checks are panacea to knowing what we need to about the people caring for children,” Palm added.

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