Abused own baby, worked at child care

Liis Velsker
, reporter
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Photo: Childcare web page

Despite the law setting restrictions on background for child care worker, employers have lots of room for discretion. As an example of that, a mother worked at a Tallinn child care having previously endangered the life of her own son whom she also severely mistreated. 

In spring of 2009, Kerli P. (full name known to Postimees – edit) then aged 20 continually neglected her baby boy four month old. While with him, she was often drunk, not tending for the baby and leaving him emotionally alone. Also, the little one was repeatedly left with other people who were intoxicated while she disappeared for days.

A Harju County Court ruling lists severe injuries and brain trauma due to shaking, also resulting in severe psychical disorder.

On top of that, having intentionally left the baby with her drunken friend Marku in May 5th, the latter dropped him against edge of bed resulting in several bones fractured and haematomas. Without medical care, the child’s life would have been in danger.  

Kerli was sentenced for two years in prison, of which she had to serve out three months. Marku went behind the bars for three years straight.

To help the woman

As recently as last Thursday, a Tallinn child care website featured a staff photo of Kerli with her other, younger son. Having her last name altered, Kerli was listed as childminder with a couple of sentences added about her person.

The manager of said child care said Kerli had not worked for them for 1.5 years now. «Our website was Wordpress-based, it developed a glitch and is not adequate at the moment,» she said.

And yet, she had been working there, a bit over a year. As assistant child minder, mainly cooking the food and cleaning up. Why did she leave? «I definitely cannot tell you that. She had personal reasons,» said the manager.

She explained they had been aware of Kerli’s past. «If an individual admits guilt and has repented, and served out the sentence – when we hired her, her background was clear for us –, then we made the decision with full awareness,» she said.

The child care, owned by an international charity organisation, substantiated the decision by desire to help the young woman. Kerli came from a complex background, having been raised in a children’s home. «We are well aware what kind of therapies she received back then,» said the manager.

The employers said Kerli tried hard to make it in life. She never came across as violent or aggressive while at work. «Naturally, there were questions and discussions about it, but our child care is very small and control over her was strong. But it was an opportunity given to her,» explained the manager.

She backslid

Alas, in March this year Harju County Court convicted Kerli, 27 by now, criminally for the second time – this time, in physical abuse of her second and younger son, and in theft. The abuse part was hitting him in the face with her fist.

On top of that, the punishment register of Kerli features illegal handling of narcotic substance.  

Estonian Union of Child Welfare communication manager Mart Valner noted that with the background known, it was questionable to hire the individual. «Even with a noble goal like helping the person,» he added.

Mr Valner underlined that with work related to children, the interest of the latter come first and people with abusive background may not be left alone with a child. He noted it was regrettable that the woman was convicted again but «the institution cannot be faulted with that at all, a year and a half in advance.»

Asked if parents ought to be notified about the criminal past of a childminder, most people we asked said that parents would then opt not to use the services of such an institution.

A training provider at Estonian Parents Association, Kristiine Vahtramäe thinks people must be granted a second chance and that probably, as assistant child minder, Kerli was never alone with the children. «I find it okay though fro parents’ point of view I would be very much interested that teachers or minders were altruistic, warm-hearted, nice people who I trust with my child,» she admitted.

«If I am told that you know such and such has a criminal record, then it may be God knows what and perhaps she has improved long ago, but I will have a bad attitude towards her anyway. I would not want people to work at the grocery store either who might punch me in the face, but as a customer I know that not as a rule,» added Ms Vahtramäe.

Legally correct

In Estonia, Child Protection Act does specify which punishment register allows people to work with children. Turn out, even after the crime committed in 2009 and conviction in court, Kerli could have gone to work at child care the very next day.  

National Social Insurance Board said a punishment like Kerli’s – jeopardising – is not in the list of restrictions regarding working with children. The act does not feature offences jeopardising a child’s life or health at all. Why these were not written in the law in 2013, none remembers.  

As for the fresh punishment of Kerli – two years and nine months in prison with three years of probation – the restriction to work would expire in six years.

Kristiine Vahtramäe, also serving as education and culture advisor at Kehtna Parish government, noted it was difficult to children’s institutions to obtain information about employees, and that the background might be better checked.

«If one asks for information as a private person and for money, you get it; but if you query as an institution, it takes enormous amount of time. The problem is, educational institutions do not get enough information,» she admitted. It may also be that the penalties have already been deleted.

«Basically, we employ people by gut feeling. Though there is the obligation to vet them, the options to do that are practically nonexistent,» said Ms Vahtramäe.

Child protection policy head at social ministry Tõnu Poopuu thinks an organisation working with children must primarily go by the interests of the children and ensure their safety. An employer is under obligation to vet the future employee’s background, and the manager of an institution answers for that.

Social Insurance Board said they would include supervision of child care in their plan.