Parents of shut-down daycare facilities share experiences, fight for change

Digital Now

COLORADO SPRINGS — Children at the Counterpoint School, just east of downtown Colorado Springs, could be heard chattering to each other on the playground on November 14, 2019.

At 11:00 a.m. that Thursday, their parents were already pulling into the facility’s gravel parking lot to pick them up for the day.

The night before, Play Mountain Place, also owned by Carla Faith, had been raided and abruptly shut down. Faith’s licenses to provide care in Colorado Springs had been pulled.

The Colorado Department of Human Services had determined Faith was running at least four daycares at the time, two of those were unlicensed.

During the November 13 raid, DHS investigators, working with officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department, found 26 children and two adults. The entire group had been hidden behind what police called a “false wall” in the basement of a personal home on the property of Play Mountain Place.

The scene parents encountered, after officers called instructing them to come pick-up their children, was much different from what they saw on their initial tour, and even from what they saw every day during drop off.

“It was sweet and charming,” said parent Sherry MacWilliam, recalling her initial tour. And, she said, Faith showed her and her husband safety features they found impressive.

“There’s a white, vinyl gate,” she said. “You can’t see through it or anything like that; I thought it was great for security. There [were] also cameras. I saw I think, two different cameras up there. You buzz in, and then they unlock the gate.”

Behind the gate was even better.

“We just loved it,” said mother, Kayla Shaw. “We visited twice. [It was] beautiful, clean, the children all looked happy.”

And one of those kids was mine.

My husband and I felt the same as most of the other parents we’ve talked to since the raid. We noted the cleanliness, and the sweet bunnies kids were able to approach and feed fresh lettuce.

“It’s just a kids’ paradise there,” Shaw agreed. “I read all the reviews,” she added.

Most of us feel we, too, did our homework.

“I researched her name, I researched the facility,” said MacWilliam. “I found great reviews, rave reviews online.”

“Even our pediatrician, who’s well known in town, recommended her,” added Shaw. “When I told her that’s where we were going to be she said, ‘oh, that’s great, we love her!'”

I also ran Faith’s background through Colorado courts, before bringing our son to Play Mountain Place. Through that search, I found her listed as the plaintiff in several disputes involving money, but nothing criminal.

But I did miss something pretty big.

Although I checked for Play Mountain Place’s valid license, which I found, I didn’t read to see what the license specifically allowed.

Had I understood the details of the license, I would have seen Play Mountain Place could only legally provide care for six children, and on my son’s first day, I would have seen violations.
But it’s something we all missed.

We also know now, the situation was worse than just a few extra children.

“26 children were found down there, and it was confirmed,” Shaw said of the raid. “It’s just beyond comprehension.”

And more parents are coming forward.

Melissa Sullivan’s son attended Play Mountain Place and, later, Counterpoint. Her daughter attended the Counterpoint School as well.

“I think that I was in shock probably the first couple of weeks after it happened,” she said.

And most parents are now wondering if the whole thing could have been avoided.

DHS records show the department received a complaint against Carla Faith and Play Mountain Place in late 2016. The complaint alleged Faith was providing care for 60 children, it said “noisy” children were placed in a basement, and that children were dehydrated and physically disciplined.

They’re serious complaints, and they make us wonder if our son, who can be a difficult toddler, spent his days in a crowded basement.

We wonder if he was scared when he watched us walk away at drop-off. We wonder if he needed help, but didn’t know to ask for it.

A report shows DHS inspectors went to Play Mountain Place on December 7, 2016, and again on December 15, 2016. No physical inspection took place on either day, citing “personal reasons” prevented Faith from allowing inspectors onto the property.

Months later, on April 10, 2017, an inspection did take place, but it was conducted over the phone.

The inspector recorded Faith as saying, during that conversation, that she never cared for more than six children, with two additional school-aged children. Faith is recorded as saying the person who reported she was caring for 60 children had probably confused Play Mountain Place with Counterpoint, her larger care center located just down the street.

And, she said, she has never put children in the basement.

“You have to look into these things,” Sullivan said. “And I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”

It seems, based on that call alone, DHS deemed all of those complaints “unfounded.”

“That is not doing your due diligence,” said Shaw. “If I’m a criminal and you ask me, ‘hey are you doing [this]?’ But you don’t investigate it fully; then I can say, ‘No!’ And then it stops there.”

“Yeah,” said Sullivan.” “You have a responsibility to these babies to really, actually look into it.”

Parents found more disturbing information in an LA Times article written in 1998.

The author described a situation very similar to what parents experienced here in Colorado Springs.

“If you Googled ‘Carla Faith,’ you could probably, eventually have found the stuff from California,” Sullivan said. “And I just never did.”

According to that article, Faith was busted after state investigators there found her caring for 44 young children. The writer says two of her employees were found racing children down an alley to hide.

“It’s crazy to me that somebody in a position of so much trust can just completely screw that trust up in one state, lose their license, move to another state, and just pick back up, right where they left off,” said Sullivan. “And there’s nothing – there’s no one to check.”

DHS says that’s about to change.

“We had a federal rule come through that basically mandated that the states figure this out by 2020,” said Erin Mewhinney, Director of Early Care and Learning Division with DHS.

The exact deadline, she said, is September 30, 2020.

“It’s still not clear exactly how we’re going to be doing this,” she continued. “Whether we will have the individual submit those requests, and pay for those requests, and have them sent to the department, or whether the department will collect the additional fees and then request that of the other states.”

Parents say the process, although not yet clearly defined, sounds cumbersome.

“DHS… has to physically call every single state just to check on that person,” said Sullivan. “Who’s going to do that? DHS didn’t even, on multiple occasions, go into Carla’s house and look around. They’re not going to call 50 different states and try to find out.”

Clear guidelines and state-to-state regulations are badly needed.

That’s what Play Mountain Place and Counterpoint parents are fighting for, even now, as they try to understand what their children may have experienced in the care of Carla Faith and her staff.

“I think that her negligence resulted in injuries, speech delays, just all of those things, in general, that kind of go along with, you know, being shoved into a basement with 26 other kids,” said Sullivan.

In fact, speech delay is one of the main concerns we have with our son.

We did, what we thought, were the right things when we noticed his delay: including early intervention through the state.

A speech therapist began weekly sessions at our home, but one day mentioned, it might be helpful to hold those sessions at school.

We approached Faith with the request, but she said due to past experiences, she didn’t allow therapists to work at school. It was a distraction to other children, she told us.

When we reported that back to our speech therapist, Cassie, said she found it strange. She told us she’d never been stopped from providing services during school, but she promised she’d work with Faith to help our son.

Unfortunately, it seemed the two were never able to connect – not by phone or email.

It’s important to acknowledge our son’s speech delay could be the result of a number of issues, not related to daycare, but we did as much as we could on our end to figure it out: medical tests, developmental assessments, and hearing screens. Doctors never found an obvious problem.

Still, it was more than a year, well after our son’s time at Play Mountain Place, before we heard any measurable improvement in his language development.

Other parents have shared their concerns about what their kids really learned during the day in Faith’s care.

One mom said when her son began quoting television shows she’d never heard of, she started asking questions.

“She was fooling everybody. Including DHS,” said Sullivan.

We’ve also learned more about the people Faith hired to watch over our children.

“There were employees there completely unqualified. All sorts of terrible stuff in their background” said MacWilliam.

Colorado background checks revealed Faith’s employees generally had criminal histories and should never have been hired to work in a daycare facility.

DHS wasn’t even aware of at least two of Faith’s Play Mountain Place employees.

FOX21 Digital NOW was able to track down one of those women, because Colorado Springs Police arrested her on unrelated warrants on the night of the raid.

Katelynn Nelson was arrested on unrelated warrants on the night of the raid at Play Mountain Place in Colorado Springs.

Katelynn Nelson’s background included possession of a controlled substance – schedule two, a class 4 felony.

A search of Nelson’s background also revealed forgery, another felony.

“I wish I that I had known about Colorado Shines,” said Shaw.

Colorado Shines is a state-run website.

“It’s where [parents] can find information on licensing history or their complaints history,” said Mewhinney, of DHS. “It really is a website meant to empower parents to make choices on where they want to place their children in care.”

FOX21 News made several attempts to contact Carla Faith, but never heard back.

Find more FOX21 Digital NOW stories on our website.

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