- Special Projects
Parents of children at an Ewa Beach day care where a toddler nearly died in an apparent assault were not informed about the incident, contrary to a recommendation from a panel of child abuse experts that reviewed the case.
In addition, at the time then-17-month-old Peyton Valiente was injured, the day care had taken in more children than allowed by state law, according to documents and interviews with parents of two of the children.
One parent told Civil Beat that the day care operator, Manuela Ramos, coached her to tell state officials they were related, thus circumventing limits on the number of unrelated children a babysitter can take in. Ramos did not return a phone call seeking comment.
On the question of notifying the other parents, the panel of child abuse experts recommended that the Honolulu Police Department talk to them to rule out the possibility that their children had been abused.
The panel, called an interdisciplinary team, made its recommendation in January 2015, a few weeks after medical professionals concluded that someone at the day care had assaulted Peyton.
Parents of two of the children say no one ever talked to them. They only learned about the case after Civil Beat reported on it.
Lafaele Faatamalii, whose son Ocean was at the day care, said he found out about it after seeing social media discussions of the Civil Beat story.
“I feel disappointed I wasn’t informed by her that an incident happened,” said Faatamalii, who described his relationship with Ramos as cordial. “I wish she had communicated that with me.”
Likewise, Briana Chang said that she knew nothing about the incident, investigated by HPD as first-degree assault, until she read about it. She said she would have taken out her son “in seconds.”
Peyton’s mother, Chelsea Valiente, told Civil Beat, “I would have notified them myself if I had known who they were.” Peyton was only on his third day with the babysitter when he was injured, so Valiente had little chance to meet the other parents.
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the department could not comment on the lack of notifications because the case is being reviewed.
Acting Chief Cary Okimoto ordered a full review of the incident in response to Civil Beat’s story, which found serious flaws in the investigation. Okimoto is scheduled to update the Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday.
The apparent assault occurred on the morning of Jan. 9, 2015. When Valiente dropped off Peyton at Ramos’ day care, he seemed playful and alert. But shortly before 3 p.m., Ramos called Valiente to say that Peyton, who had been lying on the ground near her, rolled to his side and became unresponsive, his limbs stiff.
Tests showed that Peyton had suffered a subdural hematoma — a dangerous build-up of blood on the brain — as well as bleeding in his retinas and bruises on his back suggestive of finger marks. These injuries point to intentional abuse.
The panel of child abuse experts concluded that the abuse had occurred while Peyton was at day care. But an HPD investigation did not lead to any charges. Manuela Ramos, the babysitter, is married to HPD Cpl. Mark Ramos, which led Peyton’s parents, Chelsea and Rey Valiente, to question if the department’s investigation had been biased.
HPD failed to take steps recommended by experts in such cases, such as separating and interviewing those who were present as soon as possible and talking to even very young children who may have seen something.
Ramos and her two teenage children, then 18 and 16, were not interviewed by HPD’s child abuse detail until several months later.
Two weeks after Peyton was injured, the multidisciplinary team at Kapiolani Child Protection Center recommended that authorities “explore if the Honolulu Police Department is able to interview the parents of the other children cared for by the babysitter.” The “desired outcome,” the panel wrote, was to “rule out abusive trauma.”
Kristen Bonilla, a spokeswoman for the panel, said that the report would have been forwarded to the state Department of Human Services.
DHS spokeswoman Keopu Reelitz said the department could not comment on the specifics of the Valiente case. In general in such circumstances, a Child Welfare Services worker would call HPD to relay any recommendations from the panel, she said.
Valiente said that she discussed the possibility of informing other parents with both DHS and an HPD detective assigned to the case. Both told her that disclosing Peyton’s injuries to other parents was not within their jurisdiction.
Valiente said she was upset, but had no way to contact the parents.
Although the day care was not registered or licensed with the state, it did receive some scrutiny from regulators because Ramos qualified to take part in Child Care Connection Hawaii, a program that subsidizes babysitting costs for families receiving welfare.
But Reelitz, the DHS spokeswoman, said the department would not have had the names of parents who were not enrolled in the program. In general, she said, DHS lacks authority over day care operations exempt from licensing, as Ramos claimed to be.
The department, however, did disqualify Ramos from taking part in Child Care Connection.
After DHS got reports of the toddler’s injuries, it looked into Ramos’s suitability to take part in the program and concluded the day care may have posed a risk to the “health, safety or well-being of children in care.”
DHS based its action on the police investigation and the failure of Ramos’ police corporal husband and their teenage daughter to show up for scheduled interviews with a DHS child care licensing worker several months after the incident.
Interviews with parents and documents suggest that Ramos was taking care of more children than allowed in an unlicensed day care.
In Hawaii, in-home caregivers are allowed to look after two unrelated children without state approval.
But Ramos apparently was caring for at least four unrelated children. This included Peyton; Faatamalii’s son, Ocean, who was 16 months old at the time; and Chang’s son, Tysen, 4 months old at the time.
An older child named Aryan, also unrelated to Ramos, was going to the day care as well, according to a letter sent by Ramos’ homeowner’s insurance company to Valiente. The lawyer who wrote the letter on behalf of the insurer declined to disclose where she obtained the information. But Chang verified that a child known as “Ary” was also attending the day care.
(The insurance company addressed the question of whether Ramos was taking care of unrelated children in determining that the incident would not be covered because she was running a business from the home. The letter suggests that Chang is Ramos’ cousin, though Chang says this is not true.)
In addition to the unrelated children, Ramos was taking care of a granddaughter, according to the insurance company letter.
Chang said that Ramos coached her to say they were related because it would reduce the paperwork. Ramos suggested that they say they were related on her grandfather’s side because he had a similar surname. Chang said she repeated the same story to a DHS investigator who called after Peyton was hurt, apparently looking into Ramos’ eligibility to be in Child Care Connection.
As part of that program, Ramos had to undergo a background check. But to be registered as an in-home day care, she would have had to meet many other requirements. These include an inspection of the home by a DHS worker, written policies to ensure the health and safety of the children and even a review of the personal health habits of the babysitter.
Once registered, Ramos would have been subject to DHS investigations in response to any complaints. A first-time violation for running an unlicensed day care is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
DHS says it depends on help from the public to identify illegal day care operations and rule violations. The department asks people with information to contact its licensing units.