After reading about an 8-month-old baby who died while at a Springfield woman’s in-home child care operation, Robin Phillips with Child Care Aware of Missouri said she was sickened.
The child, according to police, was placed in a car seat and left unsupervised with eight other children under the age of three for about 12 minutes. The medical examiner believes the baby died of asphyxiation and that it’s possible the car seat chest clip inhibited the baby’s breathing.
“It’s really tragic,” Phillips said. “I can’t imagine those parents that lost this child. But being a mother myself, I just can’t imagine all the things you would beat yourself up over. And you could have somebody do the most intense homework and yet still be in a situation like this.
“It’s so unfortunate when there’s some really amazing programs out there that are making such a huge difference for children,” she continued. “Then when something like this happens, it gives the whole thing kind of a bad rep, which is unfair.”
Deborah Lundstrom, 47, was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the March 2 death of a baby in her care.
According to police, Lundstrom left the home to go pick up her son from school. Before leaving, Lundstrom allegedly placed the baby and six others into their car seats and left the two oldest unrestricted. When Lundstrom returned, she discovered the baby was not breathing and called 911.
Child Care Aware of Missouri is a nonprofit agency that has served as the state’s leading source for child care information, referrals, professional development, and information for more than a decade.
Phillips, the organization’s CEO, explained that it’s not against the law to run an unlicensed daycare in your home in the state of Missouri, but wanted to make a few distinctions:
“There’s unlicensed providers who are referred to as ‘six or fewer,’ meaning they can have no more than six children,” Phillips said. “They are not under any kind of regulation. They’re not inspected. There’s no health or safety inspections. They can be registered with the state for subsidy, but not all of them are.
Underground child care and the ‘warehousing’ of children
“The other category that nobody wants to talk about is the underground child care where they are warehousing children,” she said. “In my opinion and my experience working and communicating with licensed and unlicensed providers, most people are going to say there’s no way I can care properly — was it nine children under the age of 3?”
Phillips added that she is speaking generally and not making any sort of accusations regarding Lundstrom’s case. The prosecutor’s charges against Lundstrom are pending, Phillips said.
“I’ve heard anecdotal stories over the years of there might be 20 or 25 kids with one adult,” Phillips said. “This is nothing new. This has been going on for years — what people like me call underground care. They don’t want to be known. They’re like cash only.”
Phillips said these types of “warehousing” child care operations often use car seats and ‘pack-n-plays’ to corral the children for long periods of time.
“There’s research around abuse and neglect — babies not getting the movement and the exercise because they’ve been in a car seat all day,” she said. “Now whether that was happening there or not, again, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised because how else are you going to manage nine kids under age 3?”
Besides the physical safety issues of one adult caring for so many babies and toddlers, there are emotional and developmental issues, as well. Phillips said it’s important for babies and toddlers to form attachments, build trust and security with the adult person they are with, build language and have eye contact with that person.
“Those interactions and interchanges all contribute to the brain being developed,” she said
“At age 3, their brain is 85 percent developed. By the time they’re 5, it’s 90 percent developed,” she said. “That’s why folks like me are always advocating to invest early because you are going to save on the back end. You’re going to save on the back end with the criminal system, recidivism, these students being successful graduates. It all ties back to those experiences in the first five years.”
According to Phillips, people hear about these ‘warehousing’ situations and often make comments like, ‘how could a parent not know?’”
Phillips said she worked with a family a few years ago whose infant son died while at an unlicensed daycare that had too many babies and toddlers. The parents were well-educated and knew all the right questions to ask when searching for child care, Phillips said.
“But he was the first baby dropped off,” Phillips said, “and he was the last baby picked up. So they never saw how many babies were there at one time. And then after the fact, they were like, ‘You know, we probably should have paid attention to the 10 or 12 different boxes of baby wipes that had different last names on them.”
A mother of a child who was in Lundstrom’s home on the day the child died told the Daily Citizen that she had no idea Lundstrom was caring for so many babies and toddlers because Lundstrom would not let parents inside the house saying it was a “safety measure.”
During the height of the pandemic, not letting parents inside the building was a common practice for both licensed and unlicensed child care providers.
According to that mother, Lundstrom was charging her $200 a week.
Phillips said there are some amazing unlicensed child care providers throughout Missouri. These are especially important in rural areas where a lot of people work second or overnight shifts and have no access to a 24-hour licensed child care provider.
“There’s very few 24-hour childcare centers in our state,” she said. “They’re really a critical piece of the child-care infrastructure system. And they provide a smaller environment, which many families have been leaning more toward because of COVID.”
Documents reveal likely cause of death, more details
According to the probable cause statement, the Greene County Medical Examiner stated he believed the cause of death was asphyxiation. The doctor concluded it was possible the car seat chest clip had inhibited the baby’s breathing.
The statement goes on to say that Lundstrom told investigators that she had been providing child care for 18 years.
Lundstrom told police that on the day the baby died she had placed seven of the nine children in their car seats on her bedroom floor in front of a television. She said she did not put the two oldest children in their car seats and couldn’t remember if she left the bedroom door open or closed.
Lundstrom told police she believed her 18-year-old daughter was on the property, but did not see or speak with her daughter to confirm if the teen was there. According to the statement, the teen daughter arrived on the scene after emergency personnel arrived. She told police that she was at a park with her boyfriend.
Lundstrom left in her vehicle to pick up her son from school and returned 12 minutes later to find the baby not breathing, the probable cause statement says.
Lundstrom is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter; first-degree endangering the welfare of a child — death of a child; eight counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child creating substantial risk; and operating a child-care facility without a license.
Lundstrom was arrested and is in Greene County Jail. She does not yet have an attorney, according to online court records.
Resources for parents
- Child Care Aware of Missouri’s website provides information for parents including what questions to ask providers, things to consider when choosing childcare, information about paying for childcare and child care licensing reports.
- The number of adults who are present to teach and care for your child and the other children who are playing, eating, and sleeping together in a group is known as the child-to-adult ratio. Find more about the recommended ratio on Childcare.gov.