Monday, November 25, 2019

Analysis: Daycare with false wall had much to hide

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2019 at 12:27 PM

by Amanda Miller Luciano

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AMANDA MILLER LUCIANO
  • Photo by Amanda Miller Luciano
My 2 ½-year-old son was not one of the 26 toddlers found behind a false wall in the basement of Carla Faith’s property on Nov. 13. But he has been in that basement and he says he didn’t like it there. He’s not the only kid who spent time in that basement without being one of “the 26.” There have been so many and it has been happening for years.

On Nov. 13, the Department of Human Services and the Colorado Springs Police Department raided 838 E. Willamette Ave. Faith denied there were children in the home at all before police found 26 toddlers hidden in the basement with two caregivers on whom Faith never ran required background checks, according to a DHS report. Faith was licensed to care for six children.

In addition to the 26 found on Nov. 13, parents estimate Faith cared for as many as three times as many toddlers who weren’t there because they’re part-time or because the kids were scattered to other facilities a few months earlier. The news impacted those parents and many others who used to send their kids to the daycare.

While the basement and false wall were a shock, we’d never been in that house and never expected our children to be there either.

“It’s scary,” says Ashley Dreyer, a mother who took her daughter to Play Mountain Place beginning in January 2016. “For 18 months, I dropped my daughter off and she was brought into a basement I never saw or knew about, in a building I never gave permission for her to be in.”

Dreyer’s daughter recognized police photos of the basement immediately as her old daycare, Play Mountain Place, and said it’s where she slept and played.

My son was not in the basement during the raid because he attended part-time. He also recognized the basement photos as “school,” without prompting.

Another parent said her daughter talked about “the downstairs,” and said it was “scary.”

Numerous others whose children were not among the 26 have confirmed in one way or another that their kids were in the basement of 838 E. Willamette Ave. — and not just once or twice. Parents now understand the basement was used to hide the number of children in Faith’s care from the parents who trusted her with their kids every day.

Play Mountain Place was a beautiful, idyllic wonderland for children. Parents parked in the alleyway between Institute and Prospect streets just north of Willamette Avenue and were buzzed through the white vinyl gate into a magical oasis of childhood delights.

The finished garage hosted puzzles and worktables and fun activities for the kids closer to age 3. Those 2 ½ years old and younger went to the cottage: a sweet little house with a kid-height table and small kitchen. Glass French doors looked onto a lovely little play set.

The tidy red house was set in the background, and we all assumed it was where Faith lived.

There was a lunch menu featuring fish sticks and vegetables and healthy, nutritious lunch foods. I, like many other parents, wasn’t bothered the menu didn’t get updated in the entire year my son attended. I assumed he was getting something like what was listed. We received weekly printouts with the curriculum.

And then there was Ms. Carla herself. She was Marry Poppins. She was so sweet and loving.
Faith is pretty and fit, barely looking old enough to be the grandmother she says she is or to have lost California daycare licenses in the 1980s and in 1998. Her black hair was always styled and her clothes were always fashionable.

I never looked up Faith’s license. Most of the hundreds of parents who took their children to Play Mountain over the years didn’t.

And we feel guilty and foolish and stupid for not looking up the license. But Faith made us feel that was wholly unnecessary.

“She’d been doing it for so long, and there were so many other parents who had taken their kids there and they were so happy,” says Aubrey Day, whose daughter went to Play Mountain until August when she was moved to New School West, Faith’s unlicensed daycare down the alleyway at 814 E. Willamette Ave. There were usually around 10 children at that facility when Day dropped her daughter off. A license is required for any more than four unrelated children.

For Dreyer, she knew other parents who took their kids to Play Mountain Place and they loved it. It was just a couple blocks away, “so we could walk there,” she says.

“When you see the places where you think your child is going to be spending time, Play Mountain is adorable. You want to believe people who are in a position like that. She conned us all.“

Several other parents I spoke with had similar experiences. They all knew someone who sent their kids to Play Mountain or had some other connection to it. Most didn’t have a lot of experience with other centers. Their kids were young.

“Everything seemed so above board,” Dreyer says.

And, even if I had looked, I’m not sure what I saw would have sounded alarm bells. I might have been more skeptical knowing she was only licensed to care for six kids. But the forms are so old fashioned and formal. I might have guessed they meant she was required to have a 6:1 ratio with staff.

When the news first broke, my friends and I couldn’t wrap our minds around that basement. I kept wondering if there could be a basement in the cottage. It didn’t make sense the kids were in the red house. We hoped it had all been a misunderstanding and Ms. Carla just got caught trying to be too accommodating. I still held onto that, even after reading a 1998 Los Angeles
Times
article about Faith being caught with 44 toddlers when her Culver City daycare was licensed for 14. Staff there was found herding 30 toddlers down an alleyway to hide them from authorities.

“It sounds like she was doing the same thing in Colorado that she did here, only worse,” says Germaine Abood, whose now 24-year-old son was one of the 44 rescued in 1998. “She needs to go to jail.”

Abood said she showed up unannounced late one Friday morning in 1998 to bring a toy her son had forgotten, and found no children in sight. A staff member said the kids were in computer class. She told her friend. The next week, police arrived. She later learned her son was being hidden and was napping in the attic of the garage, where there was no ventilation.

No criminal charges were ever filed and DHS does not review daycare licenses from other states prior to issuing one here.

On Sept. 12, one of Faith’s regular staff members met me in the parking lot and said they had a sewer backup and I needed to pick my son up from the front of the red house on Willamette.

Faith texted later and said Play Mountain was closed, but she could accommodate everyone. For us, she continued care at 1319 N. Franklin St. Plenty of others moved with us, but I didn’t know them. Most of the families I knew were moved to Counterpoint preschool or down the alleyway to New School West.

There was no sewer backup or water main break, according to authorities and public records.
The scattering of the children coincides with a visit from DHS.

On Sept. 13, the day after the “water main” incident when the majority — but not all — of the children were attending daycare at different Faith-owned properties, a DHS investigator arrived at the little cottage in the alleyway at 838 ½ E. Willamette Ave. for a routine inspection of Faith’s daycare facility, according to public records obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

Faith would not allow the investigator into the garage or the red house, saying both were rented to other parties, according to the report. She said she no longer provided daycare services and only occasionally cared for a select few kids and her grandchildren.

There were no children onsite during the investigation, according to the report, though at least a couple parents say they dropped their kids off there that morning.

We took our son to Franklin along with several others until Nov. 5 when we returned to Play Mountain Place. Franklin was never licensed. None of the parents were allowed to see the inside of the house. There were so many red flags we all dismissed because we trusted Faith.

When we returned to Play Mountain Place on Nov. 5, and in the following days there, I felt sorry for Faith. That “water main” incident had really done a number on her business, I thought. The parking lot used to be filled with four or five cars at pick-up and another two to four would stack up in the alley. The lot and alley were a ghost town in early November. It seemed there was a fraction of the attendance there had been before September.

That was one of the most confounding things about the news. How could she be caught with so many kids when it seemed like she had so many fewer now than ever before in our year attending?

On Dec. 2, 2016 someone reported to DHS that Faith was caring for 60 children, 10 times what her license allowed. The report also indicated children were being taken to the basement, were not being fed properly, they were dehydrated, and that Faith was physically disciplining the children.

A DHS investigator went to the property on Dec. 7, 2016 and had no answer. “There was no evidence that care was occurring at the residence,” according to the report. When the investigator returned the following week, Faith’s daughter answered, the report said. She said Faith had a death in the family and was out of town.

Meanwhile, Dreyer and dozens of other parents were dropping their children off at 1319 N. Franklin St., believing Faith’s story of a water main break (another one). Faith told parents twice that there was a water main break in order to scatter the children — once in October 2016 and once in September 2019. She also told parents in California there was a water main break in 1998 and had them take children to a different house, Abood said.

In April 2017, DHS conducted a phone interview with Faith. She told the investigator she no longer provided regular in-home daycare, she never kept children in the basement, did not physically discipline, and made sure the children in her care were well fed and had plenty of water.

When the investigator asked why the reporting party would allege she had 60 children in her care, she said the party must have confused Play Mountain with Counter Point, her preschool down the street.

All of the accusations were considered “Unfounded,” and the investigation was closed.
DHS made another routine visit Oct. 16, 2018 and found only three children in Faith’s care.

Sherry MacWilliam never saw that few children at Play Mountain Place when she dropped off her son. She said she usually saw 10-15. She knows her son was there that day and believes Faith was hiding the children in the basement of the red house during the inspector’s visit. The record did not include references to the house at 838 E. Willamette Ave., but it does not appear it was inspected.

Nicole Rosa lives at 611 N. Prospect St., the opposite end of the alleyway from Play Mountain, but still a common entry and exit point for parents at drop off and pick-up. She said she noticed traffic increase dramatically about five years ago, though Faith had her daycare license at 838 ½ E. Willamette Ave. beginning in 2003. Rosa said she counted about 40 cars in and out in the mornings. Rosa wouldn’t have seen any cars that entered and exited the other end of the alley, and there were also several families who walked.

So, could there have been 60 kids in Ms. Carla’s “care?” I believe it, and I believe it could have been even more.

Some parents worry about the potential of more overt abuse. I hope my son is resilient enough to overcome whatever unpleasantness he experienced. I know he didn’t like the basement, and he stopped wanting to go to “school” shortly before the “water main” incident. I don’t know what changed. I know a couple other parents say their kids also stopped wanting to go around that time.

I don’t know what happened at Play Mountain. I’m hopeful it was just unqualified people doing a bad job with way too many kids. Some kids did have major physical injuries requiring hospital visits and there were staff none of the parents ever met, many of whom media have reported had backgrounds that would have prevented them from being hired in reputable daycare facilities.

“The unknown of it is really disconcerting,” Dreyer says. “It’s very hard to deal with as a mother.”

These kids are all so young they can’t articulate what went on, so we will probably never know the whole story.

Even after the DHS raid, Faith tried to keep the business going. A staff member called Play Mountain Parents and told them they’d be closed due to a tragedy in Ms. Carla’s family, but that they’d reopen the next week. The same staff member accepted four kids into New School West the day after the raid without telling them they’d lost their license. Their argument was that they can have four children in care without a license.

Parents are trying to determine how to best prevent this from happening again.

This daycare is in the heart of downtown. Some of the most intelligent, connected, resourceful people in town trusted Carla Faith with their kids. And many are angry. This is not a group that will be quiet long, and it’s not a small group either.

They’re being patient with the CSPD — for now. They know police have a lot to wade through.

“It’s horrible,” says Abood, the California mother. “She’s been doing this for more than 20 years. She should really serve jail time.”

Faith has yet to respond to the Indy's request for comment.
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