BOULDER, Colo. –
Social-services officials are investigating a Boulder child-care provider after a toddler was found wandering the streets alone this week.
Police said the 2-year-old boy walked away unnoticed from the Saffron School day care, 473 Harvard Lane, on Thursday morning.
Boulder resident Jessica Gumkowski, 37, spotted the wandering toddler about 10:40 a.m. while jogging along Harvard Lane in south Boulder.
“I was listening to my iPod and I couldn’t help but notice this little dude, like 2 feet tall, walking along the sidewalk,” Gumkowski said. “I said, ‘Do you need my help?’ He just shook his head ‘yes’ and was crying a little bit.”
The two walked to a nearby King Soopers, 3600 Table Mesa Drive, and called police.
“I thought, if I was a mother, what would I want someone to do?” Gumkowski said. “I’m just really glad I found him.”
Officers arrived, gave the toddler a teddy bear and began asking neighbors for help.
Soon, they came upon Michael Moore, who was hosting a garage sale outside his home on Harvard Lane.
“(An officer) had a kid by the hand and said, ‘Please, tell me you can help me,'” said Moore, 29. “I said, ‘There’s a day care next to my house,’ and we walked over together.”
Police returned the child to the licensed child-care provider, and the school’s owner and director, Margarita Anselim-Neuman, called the boy’s parents. Anselim-Neuman told police that the mother told her the boy has a habit of walking away and leaving the home unsupervised, according to police.
Reached by phone Friday, Anselim-Neuman declined to comment.
Police declined to release the names of the child’s parents.
Moore, the neighbor to the child-care center, said he’s been concerned about the business.
“I’ve never seen more than one adult out there at one time,” he said.
Moore said the red, brick house has been a rental property for years, and that traffic along the side street in front of the building creates a hazard for children outside.
His girlfriend, Sacha Mittelman, 32, is a school psychologist employed by the St. Vrain Valley School District and a former child-care worker.
She also said she’s noticed few adults keeping an eye on children at the house.
“I have leaned over the fence and I’ve definitely had concerns about the level of supervision before,” she said. “Even little things, like a kid having a hammer. It’s a lot of space for one person to supervise.”
According to the Saffron School Web site, the center “feels that keeping teacher to student ratios low is of utmost importance when supporting small groups of children. Our childcare center operates under the ratios recommended by Colorado’s Department of Child Care.”
Police, however, have referred the center to the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services, as well as the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Both agencies have launched investigations.
According to a search of records with the state agency, the Saffron School is licensed for in-home care under the operating name Ann Andrews. Its license allows for the care of up to 12 children at a time, from newborns to age 13.
Conditions include that “children shall be under direct supervision during outside play.”
The home business was last inspected in February, and it had at least one complaint filed against it, in October last year, according to records. The complaint alleged a lack of supervision and insufficient staff-to-child ratio. Records show the complaint was substantiated, but they do not say what sanctions, if any, were taken.
Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said children wandering away from day-care centers is a rare, and very serious, issue.
“It is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, but obviously a very dangerous one,” McDonough said. “This is a possible issue of child neglect. A 2-year-old, in general, has to be supervised at all times.”
She said the state would wait on Boulder County to conclude its initial investigation, and then take over to see if the business violated conditions of its operating license. Sanctions could range from increased supervision of the business to revoking its license.
Frank Alexander, executive director of Boulder County’s Housing and Human Services, said there have been 51 complaints filed this year against child-care facilities in the county.
“We have a very small percentage of reports … about wandering children,” Alexander said.
He said an investigation would be launched into the Saffron School’s “safety issues” and “level of supervision.”
Boulder police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said criminal charges remain possible, but that depends heavily on the county and state findings.