A local daycare operator who was arrested last month on a felony charge of cruelty and injuries to children after 16 youngsters were found in her Forest Lakes home will go before the grand jury in February. A Juvenile and Domestic Relations court judge ruled January 8 that there was enough probable cause to certify the charge.
Kathy Yowell-Rohm smiled and waved to the crowded courtroom as she entered in a red jumpsuit and handcuffs that attached to a chain around her stomach.
The 53-year-old woman was operating a home daycare out of her Forest Lakes residence. A Child Protective Services investigator testified that she received a report that children were being left in car seats all day with no food and without having their diapers changed.
When CPS investigator Alyssa Westenberger arrived at the home on Turnberry Circle on December 6, she said she could hear multiple babies crying from outside.
Initially denied access to the children, Westenberger was accompanied by Albemarle County police officers when she found 16 kids—ages 3 months to one 4-year-old—in different rooms in the home. Some children were in the dark, and all but the oldest child had extremely wet, bulging diapers, said several witnesses. Some of the diapers had soaked through, onto the infants’ clothing and the padding of the seats and swings they were confined to.
At least one diaper was filled with feces, and some of the substance had dried on the leg of the baby wearing it.
“The smell was quite awful, of urine and feces,” said Westenberger.
The CPS investigator testified that Yowell-Rohm isn’t a licensed daycare operator.
In Albemarle County, daycare centers operating out of private homes are known as family day homes, and those serving four or fewer children do not require licenses. However, if a family day home provider cares for more than four kids under the age of 2, with a limit of 12 children, she must possess a state-issued license from the Virginia Department of Social Services, according to spokesperson Cletisha Lovelace.
Defense attorney Scott Goodman said his client’s behavior wasn’t felonious, and that he wasn’t sure prosecutor Darby Lowe proved Yowell-Rohm had committed more than a lack of ordinary care.
“There’s nothing unusual about a 6-month-old being in a car seat or a rocker,” he said, noting that the home was clean and investigators had access to additional clothing and diapers in a variety of sizes. “I’m sure that all over this city at this minute, children are sitting in a dark room, taking a nap, with a dirty diaper.”
Judge Claude Worrell didn’t seem to agree, and he scheduled Yowell-Rohm’s case to be heard before the next sitting grand jury at 9:30am on February 5.
Yowell-Rohm will also be in court January 18 to face charges of drunk in public and allegedly biting an EMT at the UVA/Virginia Tech football game November 24 at Scott Stadium.
The third degree
The Virginia Department of Social Services offers a number of questions parents should ask before deciding on a daycare service for their children.
- Is there adequate supervision at all times?
- Is there a routine but flexible schedule?
- Is there dedicated outside time and indoor time?
- Do the children have pretend play, music and art time?
- Are the meals and snacks nutritious?
Corrected January 10 at 3:45pm to reflect that family day home providers who care for more than four children under the age of 2 must be licensed.