Authorities have filed child endangerment and neglect charges against five daycare workers who are accused of assaults, forced feedings and aggressive restraining of kids in their care.
The charges involve alleged conduct that occurred at the recently closed Vineland Infant-Toddler Center on Delsea Drive in Vineland.
The alleged incidents occurred during the month of August and were caught on surveillance cameras located in center classrooms, according to details included in affidavits of probable cause filed with the charges.
The alleged abuse came to light when a parent saw bruising on her son’s arm after picking him up from the facility, authorities said. She took the child to a hospital and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency opened an institutional abuse investigation, court documents indicate.
Surveillance footage obtained from one classroom alleged showed employees Marcia A. Green, 48, of Bridgeton, and Allison L. Willis, 28, of Shiloh, commit “numerous assaults, force feedings and aggressive restraining of the children” according to their affidavits.
Another employee, Cecilia A. Ruiz-Perez, 27, of Bridgeton, was allegedly seen on camera restraining a child between a table on chair on multiple occasions, grabbing and tugging on the child’s arms, and shoving and kicking the child’s chair underneath a table.
Emmaliz Torres, 20, of Millville, was allegedly seen on camera “grabbing and contorting” a child’s hands and fingers on multiple occasions, smacking, grabbing and squeezing children’s hands and fingers, “back handing” a child in the head, and “restraining” a child’s head or hands “to force feed him,” according to her affidavit.
Martha R. Gil, 39, of Vineland, was also allegedly seen on camera grabbing and contorting children’s fingers, restraining a child in a chair, pushing a child’s head toward the floor and smacking a child on the head.
Most of the defendants don’t have attorneys yet, a court official confirmed. Attempts to contact an attorney representing Torres were unsuccessful.
Green is charged with four counts each of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree cruelty and neglect of children, along with three counts of fourth-degree endangering another person. The charges stem from alleged conduct involving four children.
Willis is charged with three counts each of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree cruelty and neglect of children, as well as two counts of fourth-degree endangering another person. Her charges involve three kids.
Ruiz-Perez is charged with one count each of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree cruelty and neglect of children stemming from alleged conduct involving one child.
Torres and Gil are each charged with five counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and five counts of fourth-degree cruelty and neglect of children, stemming from alleged conduct involving five children.
The defendants were released on summonses and are due back in court in November.
The center has since closed its doors.
Social services provider Gateway Community Action Partnership owns the building where the center operated for the last six years, but cut ties with the business in September, according to a statement from Gateway.
“Gateway Community Action Partnership had a lease with Centerton Country Day School. Under the lease, Centerton Country Day School operated the Vineland Infant Toddler Center at 605 N. Delsea Drive in Vineland since 2018,” the statement reads. “Gateway also provided the school with funding for a small percentage of the children served there. Gateway made the decision to terminate the business partnership and end the operator’s lease agreement, effective September 1, 2022.”
A Gateway spokesman would not say why it ended the partnership, but noted that the agency worked with parents to find alternate childcare.
Efforts to contact operators of the shuttered facility were unsuccessful on Thursday. Someone answering an email sent to an address associated with the business replied with a “no comment.”
Reached by phone, a representative for Centerton Country Day School Inc. said she could not comment on the situation.
Officials with the state Department of Children and Families, which oversees licensing of child care facilities, did not respond to requests for comment about the center.
The investigation is ongoing and anyone with relevant information about the case is asked to contact prosecutor’s office Detective Ashley Cornwall at 856-453-0486, ext. 13372.
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Matt Gray may be reached at [email protected].