Former day care worker charged with assaulting children

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A former day care worker is accused of assaulting multiple children who were in her care at Bright Beginnings Preschool’s Mill Creek location in Albemarle County.

Sixty-one-year-old Wanda Harlow is charged with four misdemeanor counts of assault and battery and two counts of contributing to the delinquency or abuse of a minor.

The mother of one of the children allegedly hit by Harlow says learning about the allegations involving her then-four-month-old daughter was a blow.

"My stomach sank. I almost lost it, like, how come I wasn't told? What happened to her," asked the mother, who requested anonymity to protect her daughter’s privacy.

The mother says she already had concerns about Harlow’s demeanor with young children and had called a director at Bright Beginnings to complain in June.

"When I mentioned this teacher's name, this director cut me off and said, ‘Oh, this teacher was fired immediately, on the spot yesterday,’” the mother said.

She says the director didn't tell her why Harlow had been fired. A week later, a Bright Beginnings administrator told the mother her infant daughter was part of an investigation by Child Protective Services but wouldn’t tell her why. When the mother called CPS herself, she found out.

"A witness had seen this teacher smack my daughter in the stomach," the mother said.

The criminal complaints against Harlow in Albemarle Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court offer more details of offenses that allegedly happened between January and June.

In addition to allegedly slapping a baby, Harlow is accused of picking a child up by one arm and then dropping the child, pulling a child's hair, and digging her fingernails into another child's arm. The complaints say the witnesses were other employees at Bright Beginnings.

Attempts were made to contact Harlow, but a phone number in her name was disconnected, and her public defender didn't return CBS19's call.

The mother says it isn't just the alleged assault that upsets her. It's how Bright Beginnings handled it.

"There was no incident report filed,” she said. “I was never contacted, so therefore I couldn't seek medical care for my child that day."

Bright Beginnings responded to a request for comment with a letter sent to parents on Wednesday. The letter says management only became aware of any allegations against Harlow in June and fired her immediately.

It says the centers check employees’ backgrounds and that the policies exceed state requirements. It says staff has been retrained on mandatory reporting, and cameras have been installed throughout the centers.

The mother says she hopes this incident will also help educate other parents in their own interactions with day care providers.

"I'm just hoping that by sharing this, parents are more aware of things that go on and the poor communication that can go on at day cares and just really trust your gut instinct," she said.

Harlow has a court hearing set for Nov. 18.

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