Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Babysitter' at daycare just 5: cops

Alleged abandonment shocks

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It's a case that stunned parents and even veteran police officers, who don't recall seeing anything similar.

New details have emerged surrounding a Winnipeg woman accused of fleeing her unlicensed home daycare and abandoning six young children.

The Free Press obtained the name of the 33-year-old woman and the alleged victims through court documents filed this week. They confirm the charges of child abandonment police first announced in May. Her identity can't be published because two of the alleged victims are her own children and it is believed there is Child and Family Services involvement.

"Whatever we want to say, we will say in court. Our explanation, our justification we'll say to the judge," a woman answering to the name of the accused said in a brief telephone conversation from her St. Vital home. "Whatever happened is done. We don't want to say anything in the newspaper."

Others affected by the incident aren't so reluctant to talk. The parents of a five-year-old girl who was in the home at the time said Tuesday they are baffled by what allegedly occurred.

Their daughter was the oldest of the six children present and was essentially thrust into the role of "babysitter" for at least an hour that day, police said.

"Obviously we feel anger, but there's nothing I can do about it," said the girl's father, who didn't want his name used to protect her identity. "I don't know why she (allegedly) did that."

The family is originally from India and moved to Winnipeg in January from Calgary. The father works at a local paint store and the mother is a doctor from India who is upgrading her education and doing a residency at a local hospital.

"We started looking for a licensed daycare here, but they were all full. And some of the waiting lists are very long," the father said.

Desperate to find a solution, they went online and searched Kijiji, where they found a woman in their neighbourhood advertising her private, home-based daycare. The only catch was it was unlicensed, but the family felt reassured after speaking with the married, stay-at-home mother, who is originally from Pakistan.

"She said she had five already, room for one more. Two of the kids were her own. I figured she was from Pakistan, we were from India, it was all friendly," the father said.

Their daughter seemed happy and reported no issues. However, the parents began to get concerned when they would occasionally phone the home to check on the girl but get no response.

"Sometimes it would be 10, 15 calls with no answer," said the father. He began periodically dropping by the house unannounced during the day from his nearby workplace just to ensure there were no issues. None was observed.

Everything changed that afternoon in May when police called him at work, saying another parent had stopped by the daycare and found all the children had been left to fend for themselves.

Police haven't released details about the woman's whereabouts at the time, but say her reasons for leaving weren't legitimate, such as a medical emergency.

The parents of the five-year-old said they believe she was still in the neighbourhood, but at another residence. They say their daughter has told them this also happened on other occasions, though police have not laid charges regarding other days.

"It's not easy for parents. We're running short of licensed daycares," said the father, who had to take time off work to stay home with his daughter until they recently found an opening in a licensed facility. He said this incident has caused the couple to rethink their plans to have a second child.

There are thousands of home-based private daycares in the city because licensed spaces are limited. The people who run these daycares aren't subject to child-abuse and criminal-background checks or screening and they don't have to have medical training.

"We should be scared," Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, told the Free Press recently.

"There is no watchdog when it comes to unlicensed child care, other than parents. There's plenty of outrage, there's just no accountability."

As of March 31, 10,708 kids in Manitoba were waiting for a daycare space, the online child-care registry shows.

The accused in this case will make her first court appearance July 30.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 A3

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