Mom who complained about daycare provider in 2010 blames herself after toddler's death
Tara King says she remembers the day she found the daycare ad on Craigslist back in April 2010.
“It was perfect. It was in the neighbourhood where I was living. It was fully licensed.”
For King and her husband, the find was a small sigh of relief in their search for daycare for their nine-month-old, a search King remembers as a “constant struggle.”
“I felt optimistic,” King says. “I thought this might be the chance.”
So King made an appointment at the home on West 16th Avenue in Vancouver – a place called The Olive Branch Family Daycare, she says – run by a woman named Yasmine Saad.
But when they arrived at the duplex that Sunday to meet with Saad, King says, their expectations quickly turned to disappointment.
“I walked in and it appeared chaotic,” King recalls. “It was too small of a living area and it didn’t feel safe.”
King says a number of things stick out about the visit: a staircase without a safety gate, inadequate seating for young children, and when she and her husband asked to see the upstairs sleeping quarters, they were told that wasn’t possible.
But the biggest red flag, King remembers, had to do with Saad’s license.
“It’s the first thing my husband and I wanted to see when we sat down with her,” King says. “She told me it was a fully licensed daycare. I asked to see verification of that.”
King says Saad showed her a certificate and she wrote the number down. The next day, she sent an email to Vancouver Coastal Health, which oversees daycare licensing and inspections in parts of the Lower Mainland. The response she received back, King says, worried her.
“It sounds like the child care provider showed you her personal [Early Childhood Educator] Licence to Practice,” wrote VCH’s Teresa Sankey, in an email King shared with CTV News.
“This is not the same thing as licence to operate a family child care,” the email continued, adding that King’s inquiry would be forwarded to a Licensing Officer for follow up.
King says she was upset and discouraged.
“[Saad] told me it was a fully licensed daycare. I asked to see verification of that. She didn’t have it.”
King says she can’t recall whether VCH ever confirmed to her if the Olive Branch Family Daycare was properly licensed or not. Licensed child care programs are required to meet specific health and safety requirements, staff-to-child ratios and program standards set out by the province.
But it appears health authorities took King’s inquiry seriously.
Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed to CTV News that it followed up on a complaint at the West 16th address in 2010, writing: “A VCH Licensing Officer found the operator was not in compliance with the number of children permitted as an unlicensed daycare and directed them to reduce the number of children in care.”
When CTV asked VCH if a licensing officer followed up with the daycare operator after that visit, which health authorities say typically happens in cases like these, VCH refused to say more: “We can’t speak to anything that may be related to an ongoing investigation,” wrote Anna Marie D’Angelo, senior media relations officer.
More than six years later, now with a seven-year-old and another toddler, King says she had almost forgotten about her encounter with Saad.
But a CTV story identifying a woman with the same name as the operator of the East Vancouver unlicensed daycare where 16-month-old Macallan Saini died in January, brought the memories back.
“I had the news on…and I heard this name,” King recalls.
Her voice cracks. Her eyes tear up as she remembers the moment she made the connection that the Yasmine Saad from 2010 and the daycare operator where the toddler died this year are the same person.
“I looked over at the TV and I just got this really sinking feeling.”
That feeling has since turned to guilt. King says she wishes she had done something more in 2010, including following up with health authorities.
“Why do you blame yourself?” I ask.
“Because I raised those red flags. So how is it that someone is able to keep providing for children who are at the most innocent and vulnerable stage of their life?”
There is no indication Saad is responsible for Baby Mac’s death, or for injury to any other child. Vancouver police have called the toddler’s death “not suspicious,” but are still investigating. The coroner has not released a cause of death, but Baby Mac’s parents have called it “preventable.”
CTV’s calls and emails to Saad, who has since moved out of the home off Commercial Drive, were not returned.
And while Baby Mac’s parents have not spoken publically about their son’s death, they have written a letter calling for massive reform of B.C’s daycare system, a system they say let them down.
“Please know this,” they wrote. “We did all the checks a diligent parent should do. We had lists of things to look for and questions to ask. We signed papers and were given assurances and promises that made us feel like Mac would be safe and well cared for. In the end, this was all meaningless.”
King also feels like she let them down.
“If you were able to talk to Chris and Shelley, what would you say to them?” I ask.
“That I’m sorry. That they’re brave and that we need to stick together as parents to fight for this. Every parent, every child deserves the right to quality, safe, daycare.”
To search for child care in B.C., click here.
To find your local child care resource and referral centre, which maintains lists of licensed, registered and licence-not-required childcare providers, click here.
Watch CTV News at 6 tonight for the full investigation from David Molko