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What are the Legal Rights of Children Subjected to Punishment and Abuse at a School or Day Care Center?

By  Steven R. Smith, Attorney and David Wolf, Attorney

Building Block - W - Day Care CenterSchools and day care centers should be a place in which children are cared for in a nurturing, clean, and supportive environment. Unfortunately, at some schools and day care centers, the child care providers bring in their own sense of right and wrong.   Certainly, there are archaic and dangerous disciplinary actions that put children at risks.  Even if the child care provider was subjected to this very same punishment as a child, this does not excuse or justify the implementation of this type of punishment at a school or day care center.   Here is a simple statement to consider.  Abuse is abuse.  Of course, laws, regulations, and ordinances are more complicated than this simple statement.  It is important for day care centers and schools to follow the laws, regulations, and ordinances.  Many such rules are in place to protect the children.   It is interesting to note that some disciplinary tactics used by child care providers are similar to those improperly used against adult prisoners.   Certainly, a child is not a prisoner and should not be treated like one.  Furthermore, it is well known and should be expected that a child will misbehave and fail to follow directions.  Child care providers should be prepared to supervise the children in a safe and supportive environment.   The day care center rules and regulations should be followed.  In addition, the child care providers should adhere to and follow the laws in place.  Finally, common sense should always be used when caring for children.
In New York and other states, government agencies like the Office of Children and Family Services (New York) have the duty and responsibility to license, inspect, and discipline day care centers and schools.  If a child care provider violates the rules by improperly discipling a child, the state authority can step in and fine the facility, put the facility on probation, and / or shut down the facility.   In Irondequcit, New York, it was reported that the Office of Children and Family Services inspected a facility that it found had punished children by withholding rest, sleep, and food.   There were also improper methods of discipline including actions that were intended to frighten, humiliate, and / or demand the children.  You can read more about this story and some of the New York day care center regulations at Day Care Center Closed Down After Violations Found by the Office of Children and Family Services. 
When a child is subjected to improper punishment whether physical, emotional, or both, there may be a claim or case pursued against the school or day care center.   Like other personal injury cases, the following four elements must be established:  
1. Duty;
2. Breach of Duty;
3. Causation; and
4. Damages
Here is a set of facts to consider.  A 5 year old child is enrolled in the day care center.  He has a potty training incident and soils his pants.  The child care provider gets upset with the little boy and slaps him across his face.  He suffers a laceration to the face that required an emergency room visit.  The doctors had to put five stitches above the child’s left eye.   Over time, the laceration healed leaving just a small scar above the eye.   The above four elements can be established by this fact pattern.   The child care provider had a duty to provide care that was supportive and in the best interests of the child.  The child care provider breached this duty when she slapped the child.  As as result of the breach of duty, damages (injuries) were caused in the form of the laceration, stitches, and scar.  
The book titled – The ABCs of Child Injury – Legal Rights of the Injured Child – What Every Parent Should Know – has chapters on Day Care Center Injuries, Playground Injuries, School Injuries, and other topics.  You can get this book for free at The ABCs of Child Injury.