TROY — Miranda Cole never thought the day would come when she was falsely accused of maltreatment of a child in her care; but it did.
Not knowing where to turn in this devastating moment, she called a friend who reminded her of our union and the many resources available to members.
“I should have sent my friend flowers,” Cole said. “If she hadn’t recommended calling our union then, I would have had no clue what to do. It was so stressful. I felt like I was backed in a corner with nowhere to turn. It was like trying to find your way in the dark.”
“That first day that I called our union, my representative, [CSEA Early Learning and Care Representative] Ed Gresco was at my door within 20 minutes,” Cole said.
‘This doesn’t make sense’
Cole built an excellent reputation as a highly skilled and nurturing provider working as an ‘informal’ or ‘legally exempt child care provider’ for 11 years.
When Cole decided to expand her business and become a Licensed Group Family Child Care Provider, she worked hard to learn state Office of Children and Family Services regulations inside and out.
She took all of the OCFS-required trainings and modified her program space, following all the rules to the letter. Cole was very organized and networked with other providers. Doing everything the right way, Cole opened her expanded program in Troy in May 2017.
On June 15, 2017, Rensselaer County Child Protective Services (CPS) showed up at her door, almost six weeks to the day of opening her new program. CPS was there to investigate the allegation that a parent had accused Cole of causing a second-degree sunburn on their 6-month-old baby.
Immediately, Cole thought, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’
Union gives a voice
CSEA Associate Counsel Jeremy Ginsburg represented Cole in her quest to prove her innocence. As he began mounting her defense, Ginsburg began to see major cracks in the parent’s story.
Photo evidence demonstrated that the child had not been in the sun and left Cole’s daycare in the early afternoon on the day in question without any burns. The child’s mother stayed at Cole’s daycare for over a half-hour at pick-up time, chatting lightheartedly. The mother made a comment that the weather was so nice, she intended to sit out with the child the rest of the day on her back porch.
She then took photos of her child (still at Cole’s daycare) and posted them to Facebook before leaving. The photos showed no sunburn and her tone was far from worried.
There was simply no proof that Cole caused the burns. In fact, it was the opposite.
Nevertheless, Rensselaer County was unwilling to allow Cole’s removal from the child abuse registry. In building Cole’s defense against the county, which prosecuted the case, Ginsburg entered into evidence more than 21 exhibits disproving the accusations, compared to two exhibits from the other side.
“Your reputation is like a credit score in child care,” Cole said. “It’s hard to build and easy to destroy. This is my dream. I am doing what I love. It’s scary to go through this and at the drop of a dime someone could take that from you.”
“We work in an unforgiving field,” Cole said. “If you are passionate about something and something like this happens, it’s very easy to feel like you want to give up because you don’t have a voice, but CSEA gives you that.”
Fight spurs activism
After a long, hard fight during which our union’s Legal Department and CSEA/VOICE stood alongside her every step of the way, Cole won her case. She now has the green light to reopen her business.
“I don’t know how I would have been able to endure this without CSEA,” Cole said. “The legal fees alone would have ruined me. If I didn’t have the union, I wouldn’t have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To anyone trying to decide whether to be a union member, I say you can’t afford NOT to be a member.”
Ginsburg noted that to be placed on the OCFS child abuse registry, the law requires that there only be ‘some credible evidence,’ such as an allegation from a parent, to put a provider on the registry.
“As a provider, you could be conscientious, caring, and careful, but all you need is one person to accuse you and anyone can be accused of anything,” Ginsburg said. “Unfortunately, it’s backwards due process in that a mere allegation of abuse can result in a provider being placed on the child abuse registry, and then the provider has to go through a hearing process to have his or her name removed from the list. There is a big risk providers take when they choose to not be union. Without CSEA, you could wind up on this list and have to fight it alone, which can be an uphill battle.”
Cole now wants to spread that message to other providers.“The provider who gave me CSEA/VOICE’s phone number said, ‘We have got to stick together,’” Cole said. “I absolutely, 100 percent believe this and will be pursuing becoming an activist for CSEA and getting more providers connected to CSEA. The more providers I can help bring into CSEA by telling my story, the stronger we are as a union and our union makes us better providers and better for the children.”
— Jill Asencio