Girl, 6, was unattended for 45 minutes after returning from field trip

By Nick Wagner nwagner@civitasmedia.com

July 11, 2014

A 6-year-old girl was left alone inside a van owned by the Greater Pittston YMCA after a field trip on Monday. The child, along with several other children, are part of a summer program for kids from kindergarten through seventh grade.

The children and two YMCA staff members went on the field trip to a local petting zoo. Upon returning to the YMCA, the two staff members did not see the child sleeping in the back of the van.

The two staffers thought the other was going to take care of the child. When she finally awakened, she was able to unlock the doors and stand outside the van for another 15 or so minutes before being spotted by another YMCA staff members.

The girl was left unattended for about 45 minutes.

The staffer who was supposed to be supervising the girl was fired Tuesday morning.

Kate Gillis, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Welfare, which regulates child care facilities, said the DPW is investigating. She said once that investigation is complete the DPW will evaluate the status of certificate and take action. Luzerne Country Children and Youth is also working on an investigation.

YMCA CEO Mary Ann Dziak released the following statement today:

“At the Greater Pittston YMCA, the safety and well-being of children in our care is a top priority.

“Recently, due to a breach in protocol, a day camper was inadvertently left unattended in the Y’s parking lot after returning from a field trip. We are very grateful that the child was not harmed and remains a participant in our camp program.

“We take situations of this nature very seriously. We immediately called the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and Luzerne County Children and Youth and self-reported the incident. We are fully supporting these agencies’ investigations.

“Effective immediately, the YMCA is suspending all field trips until the investigations are completed. In addition, we are thoroughly reviewing all policies and procedures related to our summer camp program. We are committed to learning how this happened and doing whatever is necessary to make sure it never happens again.”

Prior issues

The facility could lose its license or have it downgraded — but it wouldn’t be the first time.

Gillis said the YMCA was cited twice in 2013 for improper supervision of two children. The facility was cited for “improperly supervising children” in May of 2013. In September of 2013, the facility did not “properly supervise children while swimming.”

Following the May incident, the YMCA was downgraded. It was fully reinstated in December of 2013.

According to the DPW, leaving children unattended in vehicles has proven deadly 13 times this year prior to July 3. On that date, the DPW issued a press release reminding Pennsylvanians “that they must not leave children alone in cars or let them play in vehicles, even for a moment. A few short minutes could be deadly; it is also illegal.”

The DPW recommends parents and adults taking care of children should establish habits to ensure a child is never in the car alone by:

• Keeping their purse, wallet or cell phone in the back of the car so they must open the back door before walking away.

• Putting a reminder such as a stuffed animal in the front seat when a child is in the back.

• Always checking the back seat before locking the car.

• Always locking the car and keeping car keys out of children’s reach so kids can’t let themselves into the car without an adult knowing.

• Having the daycare provider or your spouse check in with the driver if the child isn’t at daycare or home as expected.

According to the press release: In Pennsylvania it is illegal to leave a child in a car if the car is not within sight and the child’s safety or health is compromised. Anyone who sees a child unattended in a car should call 911 immediately and stay with the vehicle.

“It’s unfortunate we have to remind people about this, but it’s really important,” Gillis said.