Babysitter Backstory: DHS shared concerns with DCS

By  | 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Two months before twin toddlers were found in the deep end of a pool, the babysitter was ordered to stop daycare operations after several allegations were levied — including accepting pain medication as payment for childcare.

Jennifer Salley had operated an in-home daycare called "OM Baby" out of the residence since 2015, according to the Tennessee County Clerk's Office. At the time of the drownings, Salley's own two children were in the custody of family members.

On May 17, deputies with the Knox County Sheriff's Office responded to Salley's residence in the 8800 block of Fox Lonas Road to help the Department of Human Services serve an order to "cease conducting a child care center inside of her home."

DHS said the visit was prompted by a complaint to its hotline that she was operating an unlicensed daycare center.

According to this first complaint, Salley was observed caring for eight unrelated children from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24, 2018, with the help of an assistant at her home. Without a state license, only four unrelated children may be kept in a home for no more than three hours at a time. DHS visited on Jan. 25 and Feb. 1 in an effort to make contact with Salley, but nobody answered the door.

A second complaint was made March 28. This time, it alleged Salley was advertising an unlicensed child care facility on www.care.com that stated she had space for six children and had been in operation since 2010.

Officials visited again at 9:35 a.m. March 29 and said they heard children and dogs inside. They then heard someone turn up the song "Sweet Caroline" and heard both adults and children singing, but nobody answered the door. They left contact information at Salley’s door.

Later that day, Salley allegedly contacted DHS officials and was ordered to send out letters to parents stating that she must dis-enroll seven children in order to be in state compliance; she admitted to regularly caring for 11 children.

Officials visited again at 7:06 a.m. April 6, and while outside the residence in a car they watched parents drop off four children. Salley knocked on the DHS officials' car window at 8:36 a.m., said she only had four children in her care and invited the officials in.

Officials showed her the www.care.com advertisement and asked Salley to explain why she advertised her daycare as "state licensed" when it was not, and she said she had applied for a business license at one time but decided against it because of fire codes. She then told officials that she had 17 children enrolled but would only watch four at a time.

The officials toured the house and said they saw pack-n-plays, child gates, high chairs and beds.

On May 5, a third complaint to DHS alleged that Salley was caring for 10 children and watching them overnight as well. The complainant also said she was concerned for the children's welfare because of the history with DCS, and claimed that Salley had accepted pain medication as payment for childcare.

DHS officials then visited her home again on May 9, where they heard an infant crying outside. A caregiver, Veronica Munoz, was outside and said she was caring for eight children while Salley was at a doctor's appointment. As the officials were speaking with Munoz, another parent arrived to drop off a child. The official told the parent the would not be allowed to leave the child at Salley's residence because there were more than four unrelated children. Munoz was told she must get the residence "down to four (4) unrelated children."

The official then entered the residence with Munoz to count the children present, and said she found one child in a "closed and darkened" room.

"(The official) could not see anything as the room was completely dark," the complaint reads, adding the room smelled strongly of feces. Munoz told the official she would change the toddler's diaper and shut the door.

They headed to another room, with Munoz allegedly calling out one child's name. Once inside, officials said Munoz realized it was a different child than the one she was calling. Both children in these rooms were unsupervised, the DHS official noted.

Documents show a third larger room behind the kitchen had six children inside. The official went over a statement of childcare operations with Munoz, who refused to sign it because she "didn't want to get in trouble" for having too many children in the home.

A man and woman arrived on the scene not long afterward and took four children, officials said. The report stated Munoz admitted they weren't the children's parents, but their actual parents wouldn't care because "we are all friends and we keep each other's children."

The official left Salley's residence once only four children were left inside.

Salley had a Facebook page for her OM Baby childcare center, in which officials said they saw several photos depicting more than four children at a time. A picture posted on March 9 even showed 11 children present at the home.

No charges have be filed in regards to the complaints detailed in DHS’s report. However officials determined the children there were not being protected because the unlicensed agency was in violation of the law and doesn't meet minimum standards for health, safety and welfare. They also determined that because of several visits to the home, admissions by Munoz, the number of children present, internet advertisements and the OM Baby Facebook page, Salley continued to operate an unlicensed child care agency at her home.

When asked why officials didn't remove children from the home at that point, DHS Spokesman Sky Arnold said, "The role of DHS is not to remove children but to prevent the operation of an unlicensed child care agency. Because Salley was caring for 8 children, she was operating as an unlicensed agency without the Department’s approval or oversight. Because of those operations, DHS filed a Request for Injunction with the court to prevent Salley from continuing to operate an unlicensed child care agency." Arnold said DHS also shared the department's concerns with DCS, the Department of Children's Services.

The temporary injunction served to Salley on May 17 forbade her from engaging in any kind of childcare operation without an active license immediately, and must grant DHS immediate access into her home to ensure she is complying with childcare licensing law.

Salley signed the order, which was filed three days later on May 21.

DHS said it had not received anymore complaints about Salley since she was served those papers. On Friday, DHS said she was still in compliance with the order because she did not have more than four unrelated children inside the residence.

Salley answered a phone call from WVLT News on Monday, but disconnected the line before any question could be asked about the DHS incident.

On Friday morning, twins Elyssa and Elijah Orejuela were taken to East Tennessee Children's Hospital after they were pulled from Salley's pool in West Knoxville.

A KCSO spokeswoman said Monday the incident is still under investigation, and that all evidence will be presented to the district attorney for possible charges.

KCSO said the first twin, Elyssa, died Friday night. On Sunday afternoon, a spokesperson for East Tennessee Children's Hospital told WVLT News that Elijah had passed away.

Late Sunday night, the twin's father told WVLT News that information was not correct. It's unclear where the discrepancy came from.