The death of a 6-month-old girl at a day care facility in Rutland, Vermont highlights several broad concerns for child welfare, say advocates and physicians.
“Even over-the-counter medications can be dangerous,” warned pediatric critical care physician Dr. Becca Bell of the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Following the January death of Harper Briar at a licensed home day care facility, provider Stacey Vaillancourt, 53, is now facing charges of manslaughter and cruelty to a child.
“We would enter a plea of not guilty on each of the counts,” defense attorney Robert McClallen said during Monday’s court arraignment for his client.
Court documents show the parents of little Harper told investigators after her death that she was a “poor sleeper.”
In late January, following Harper’s second day in Vallaincourt’s home, the baby girl’s mom thought something seemed wrong. Harper seemed tired and not as “smiley,” detectives wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.
The next time at day care brought a frantic trip to the emergency room, according to police. Harper wasn’t breathing, investigators said.
According to prosecutors, Harper was poisoned with more than one dose of an over-the-counter antihistamine and sedative, when Vallaincort was the “sole person” caring for the baby.
“To the point that baby could not lift her head, and died,” Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said in court Monday, as sounds of sobbing came from a large group of people gathered in the courtroom, wearing pink T-shirts with Harper Briar’s picture on them.
Bell said she does not want to see parents or caregivers turn to cold or allergy meds from the drugstore without a doctor’s specific orders, because of the risk for poisoning.
“We don’t recommend that infants or toddlers receive these medications,” Bell told necn and NBC10 Boston.
Courtney Farrell is the director of child and family services with Lund, a non-profit that aims to strengthen Vermont mothers, children, and families.
She would not comment on the accusations in the Rutland case, but acknowledged caring for kids can be stressful.
“Being able to do it on your own is really challenging,” Farrell said.
Farrell urges adults to ask for help if they need it, including from a state-wide network of parent/child resource centers.
A list of those resource centers is available here.
“You’re not alone and you don’t have to be alone,” Farrell said.
Vallaincourt was released on conditions that included she not have contact with young children—aside from supervised contact with a grandchild.
Neither Vallaincourt nor the baby’s family commented to reporters after Monday’s arraignment.
The suspect’s attorney said the day care facility shut down shortly after Harper’s death.