By: Amber Spradley | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 13, 2020
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) – All suspects in a child abuse scandal at Tickle Me Pink Daycare and Learning Center have been released on bond.
Emmer Jean Thomas, 57, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a two-year-old child in January.
The Valdosta Police Department issued a warrant for her arrest Tuesday, and she turned herself in. She was booked at Lowndes County Jail and charged with cruelty to children, a felony. Thomas was released on bond Wednesday.
Daycare owners, Pamela and Brent Carter, were also arrested for having knowledge of the “inappropriate discipline” and not reporting it to authorities. They were released on bond Tuesday.
In 2018, Tickle Me Pink Day Care and Learning Center was voted Small Business of the Month by the Valdosta Chamber of Commerce. The allegations are taking several parents by surprise as they now search to find a new daycare.
"When I found out what happened, it was just, for me, it was hard to believe that that was even true. Mrs. Pam did so much for so many families," Felicia Kohler told WCTV Tuesday.
Police say the physical assault happened on January 14. The investigation was launched after a complaint was filed on the state department’s website.
There, you can see multiple complaints filed with similar child abuse claims.
Chandra Miller has filed two official complaints with DECAL on February 5 and Feb. 7 of last year. Her three children were enrolled in Thomas’s classes at Tickle Me Pink.
In her report, she claims her son who has autism was mistreated and starved. She opened up about it to WCTV Thursday.
“They gave him his lunch and took it away from him in less than three minutes, and they never offered him milk, juice or water with that meal,” Miller told WCTV. “I just happened to walk in on this incident occurring, and I removed my children that same week.”
She says her son lost four pounds during his three months attending.
"I just wish that it could have stopped with my kids here,” she said. “There’s multiple things that, you know, they found in the complaint, you know, that weren’t met by the standards, you know, of Bright from the Start. And I just wish that something could have been done before another child was hurt like my kids were."
The Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) issued emergency closures for both Tickle Me Pink Daycare and Learning Center locations in Valdosta Tuesday with this statement:
“On February 10, 2020, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) issued intended order of emergency closure for two child care programs in Valdosta --- Tickle Me Pink Daycare and Learning Center, located at 252 North Saint Augustine Road, Valdosta GA 31601, and Tickle Me Pink – The Academy, located at 102/104 Kelly Drive, Valdosta GA 31601. This action is taking place in conjunction with an investigation by Valdosta Police into allegations of inappropriate discipline at the first location. The provider has 48 hours to appeal the emergency closures to an administrative law judge with the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH). Parents impacted by this situation can connect with child care resources at www.allgakids.org or by calling the toll-free number 1-877-ALL GA KIDS. Parents will be assisted in locating quality child care options. DECAL provides this free service to parents. At DECAL, our top priority is the health and safety of our state’s young learners.”
DECAL spokesperson Reg Griffin tells WCTV they rarely force a childcare program to close often. They only do so when alarming evidence is found.
"It is there as a safeguard in situations where we feel that children might be in imminent danger, so that is why we issued the orders of emergency closures," Griffin said.
The daycare providers were given 48 hours to appeal, which they initially did, but abruptly withdrew.
The Carters are expected to appear before Judge Shakara Barnes tomorrow morning at the Office of State Administrative Hearings. It will take place at 10 a.m.
According to Griffin, all complaints filed with DECAL and listed on its website - except the January notice – have been investigated, classified as “substantiated” and closed.
The original complaint filed in January will not be posted until the investigation comes to an end.
A DECAL spokesman says the emergency closure now allows the state to continue its investigation “knowing no children are in the centers.”
Griffin said DECAL will complete its investigation in the next 21 days and decide its response, which could include revoking the daycare center’s license.
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