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Military wife sentenced in toddler’s death wasn’t authorized to provide child care in base housing

A Navy wife has been sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection with the death of a Navy child she was babysitting at her home in privatized housing in Norfolk.

The spouse, Ashadiya’Xolani Brooks, 36, wasn’t an authorized or licensed child care provider, according to Katisha Draughn-Fraguada, a spokeswoman for Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads. The incident occurred in the babysitter’s home in the Norfolk Pointe privatized housing area of the Joint Forces Staff College community. NSA Hampton Roads has oversight over that privatized housing.

The 18-month-old toddler, Amir Melton, was the son of two sailors and died as the result of head injuries he received on Oct. 23, 2018. A jury in Norfolk Circuit Court convicted Brooks of second-degree murder on Jan. 10.

It is the second known death of a military child in the home of an unauthorized child care provider in military housing within the last 15 months.

The Navy child’s death occurred four months before the death of 7-month-old Abigail Lobisch in privatized housing at Aliamanu Military Reservation in Hawaii. A Navy wife who was providing child care without authorization and certification from base child care officials has been charged with manslaughter in Lobisch’s death. Originally scheduled for January, the trial in the Hawaii case has been postponed.

The Hawaii case fueled questions about installations’ procedures for dealing with unlicensed daycares for children. As a result of that case, DoD has been looking into the issue of how installations monitor and deal with unauthorized child care providers.

The parents of Amir Melton couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In some areas, military parents struggle to find child care for their children and may not know that child care providers on base must be authorized by installation officials. Others may assume that a child care provider is authorized. Spouses who participate in the family child care programs on military bases must meet stringent requirements, including background checks, extensive training to meet fire and safety requirements, as well as requirements for curriculum, nutrition and other areas. The caregivers also must undergo inspections.

During Brooks’ trial, the prosecution played the 911 tape for the jury, which included the moments when the dispatcher told Brooks how to give CPR, according to an account of the trial by WAVY-TV. CPR is a key part of the training for authorized family child care providers in military housing. The caregiver in the Lobisch death didn’t know how to perform CPR, according to court records, and also had to be coached by the 911 dispatcher.

According to a report in The Virginian-Pilot, the Norfolk toddler had severe bleeding and swelling on his brain, as well as a broken skull. A prosecutor said Brooks had been accused of child abuse previously, according to the report; her attorney said the previous child abuse accusations were made during a custody battle.

Information was not available about whether Navy officials were aware that Brooks was providing child care in her home, or how she was able to provide child care without being certified by the base. Spokeswoman Draughn-Fraguada said the Navy determined that “the individual providing the care was provided Navy requirements through their housing lease agreement.”

Those lease agreements state that residents are allowed to provide child care in their home only through participation in the Navy’s Child Development Homes program, if child care is provided at the home for more than 10 cumulative hours per week. According to a report by WAVY-TV, Brooks had been babysitting the child for three months. The parents testified in court that they felt confident leaving their child in Brooks’ care, according to the report.

Asked if the Navy had conducted any investigations related to the incident, Draughn-Fraguada said the Navy had immediately conducted an internal review of the command’s policies and procedures for the requirements to become a certified Navy child care home provider and determined they were in compliance with DoD regulations and the law.

Asked if officials have looked into whether there are other child care providers in Navy housing in Norfolk who are not authorized to do so, Draughn-Fraguada said, “Navy policies, procedures and lease agreements are clear about the requirements for operating child care out of individuals’ homes and the penalties and consequences if they are discovered.” Those who are discovered to be providing unauthorized care must stop operations immediately, and it could result in eviction from housing.

In September 2019, as a result of the Hawaii death, the then-DoD personnel chief James Stewart called on military officials to investigate reports of unauthorized daycare operations on installations, and take appropriate steps to shut down these unauthorized operations.

Stewart reiterated DoD Instruction 6060.02, which outlines the requirements for family child care providers, such as home inspections, training, and approval by the installation commander. The regulation states it’s the installation’s responsibility for regulating the family child care providers. Child care is not allowed in homes in military housing unless the requirements are met and approval is granted by the installation commander.

The rules apply whether the child care provider is in government-operated housing or in privatized housing,

In the Hawaii case, at least one neighbor had reported concerns about children left in the babysitter’s care, and base officials had shut her operation down previously.

In a previous interview with Military Times, the mother of the baby who died in Hawaii said changes need to be made to ensure that parents are informed if there are reports of neglect against a caregiver. She said she had no idea any such reports had been made. She also acknowledged that she wasn’t aware that there was unlicensed care.

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