By CATHERINE IRWIN
Special to Capital News Service
When Roselyn Tidwell found out she was having a baby, she and her husband were overjoyed. But when her mother-in-law fell ill a week before Tidwell was set to go back to work, they realized she was in no condition to watch an infant and began the process many parents dread: finding a stranger to watch their newborn.
With the rising costs in child care, they couldn't afford a licensed center for her children, and their combined income of $64,000 is too high to qualify for government assistance. So they turned to an option that's cheaper, and illegal -- unlicensed child care.
Tidwell works as a tech support employee for a company called Vocus and her husband, Moriba Tidwell, works at the Council for Professional Recognition. But licensed child care costs about $200 a week, and they found unlicensed care for about $150.
Since Tidwell had an older daughter, now 6, from a previous relationship, she took the lead on finding a child care provider. A friend recommended an unlicensed day care center in a private home, so Tidwell visited the house several times and spoke with other parents. Satisfied, the Tidwells signed up, and she went back to work.
After just a week, she had serious problems with the center. The day care operator, Tidwell said, gave 3-month-old Malcolm expired medicine and another child's prescription for teething.
And the operator admitted she left Malcolm alone in playpen screaming for hours. She called it a "self-soothing" technique, Tidwell said.
"I understand it's a pain to have to hold him all the time, but if you do he's awesome," Tidwell said. "He doesn't need anything else, and that's what you're supposed to do."
So she removed him and placed him with a licensed child care provider run by a friend of the family for $200 a week. But about two weeks later, Tidwell became alarmed when she arrived to pick her son up and was told Malcolm had shown no interest in food or play that day.
"So when I picked him up, I went straight to the emergency room," Tidwell said. Her daughter had a stomach flu, and doctors thought Malcolm might have it too.
In the next few days, his sister got better and returned to kindergarten, but Malcolm began vomiting, lost his appetite and seemed unable to focus.
Five visits to the emergency room and three to the pediatrician later, doctors finally ran extensive tests and told Tidwell that Malcolm had a skull fracture that ran from around the middle of his forehead to the back of his head, fluid around his brain, two blood clots in the brain and hemorrhaging behind his eyes that could only have been caused by someone shaking him.
The hospital was obligated to notify officials, and Child Protective Services in Prince George's County launched an investigation. Malcolm was released to Tidwell's mother-in-law, where he stayed for three weeks, until Tidwell and her husband were cleared of suspicion of abuse -- but not of endangerment for for placing their child in an unlicensed facility, Tidwell said. They now have a CPS record.
Child Protective Services confirmed that an investigation had taken place but would not provide additional details.
Doctors have outlined a six-week period where the injury may have occurred, since symptoms can sometimes not appear for one to two weeks after injury. The investigation was inconclusive, and Tidwell
will never know with certainty who hurt her child.
"It just never occurred to me that there are people out there that are just mean to children," Tidwell said. " I'm not like that, so I just don't understand how anybody could ever hurt an infant."
Child Protective Services had two recommendations for her: Put the children in a licensed center rather than an in-home service, or stay home with them.
"We started pricing centers, and they can be $300 a week. There's no way we could afford something like that," said Tidwell. "We live in an apartment. We have a car note on one car. The other car is paid for. We have a 6-year-old in school. I have to pay $500 a month in health care, so that's taken out of my check right off the top. There's just no way we could afford that."
So Malcolm is being watched by one of Tidwell's close friends, who stays home with her own three children. Despite having another unlicensed child care arrangement, Tidwell feels comfortable leaving her son with a family she says treats her son as one of their own.
They are spending almost $15,000 a year on child care -- cheaper than a licensed center but still nearly a quarter of their income.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services guidelines say parents can expect to pay 10 percent of their annual income on child care, according to a Maryland Family Network study. The Tidwells are using savings they set aside to buy a house to help pay for his care.
"I need new tires on my car. We do not have cable. We have the bare-bones cell phone plans, because we need Malcolm taken care of," Tidwell said. "I have to shop on sale for groceries because we just don't have the money. We have to spend it on good child care for Malcolm."
Doctors say they won't know whether Malcolm will have lasting brain damage from the injury for some time, although the hemorrhaging behind the eyes is almost completely gone and his blood clots are shrinking slowly. The fluid is still present in his brain and he is working with two teams -- one at Children's Hospital and one from the county -- that come to the house.
"The investigation brought nothing. They had to close the case, and my husband and I actually have child endangerment on our records," Tidwell said. "That means I can never go on a field trip with my daughter, because I have this CPS case on my record.
"It was completely unreal, and it was all because even though we don't make much money at all, we make way too much to be able to do any kind of government program, and yet we don't make enough for child care."