Mom Whose Baby Died in Daycare Writes Heartbreaking Essay Questioning Lack of Paid Family Leave

cribWhat happened to Amber Scorah is every new parent's worst nightmare: Just hours after leaving her 3-month-old son Karl in daycare for the very first time, he died. A cause of death was not determined, and daycare workers are not being held accountable, but Scorah isn't blaming the people she paid to take care of Karl. Instead, in a poignant, heartbreaking essay, Scorah is questioning why she was forced to leave her son in the first place.


It all comes down to our country's lack of parental leave policies, as Scorah wrote in the New York Times, and the financial demands of raising a family. As Scorah explains, she begged her employer for extended maternity leave -- even unpaid -- but was told that if she didn't return to work after three months, she would lose her job. And even though she admits that after the cost of daycare she was left with very little take-home pay, her family needed the health insurance her job provides (her partner, a freelance contractor, does not have insurance, and the family couldn't afford to pay for benefits out of pocket). So even though she didn't feel quite right about leaving Karl just yet, she found the best daycare for the money that she could -- one that was close to her office so she could stop in and breastfeed -- and prayed for the best. 

Tragically, it was the worst case scenario that unfolded that horrible, horrible day.

While no one knows why Karl died, Scorah notes that her son was put down to sleep on his side, instead of his back (the safest sleeping position). 

"Had he been put down on his back to sleep, would he be alive? I don’t know," Scorah wrote.

"I will have to live with questioning this for the rest of my life. What I do know is that had I been with my 3-month-old son, I would have gone over and checked on him at that moment. What I also know is that my son would have been safely on his back to sleep," she says.

More from The Stir: Mom Breaks into Day Care to Rescue Baby Left Alone Inside

The saddest thing about Karl's death and the fact that so many parents are made to choose between caring for their infants and supporting their families is that most of the assumptions people have about why extended parental leave is impractical are simply not true. And yet, the United States is the ONLY first world nation that does not offer families paid parental leave as a guaranteed right. Only 11 percent of Americans get paid family leave through their employers or the government, even though programs in New Jersey and California have shown that the cost is negligible, with paid leave financed through payroll deductions costing individual employers less than $1 per week. Without paid leave, many families have no other option but to resort to daycare, a solution that's often far from ideal: A 2007 survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health Development found the majority of daycare facilities in America to be either "fair" or "poor," with only 10 percent providing "high quality" care (and you can bet that quality comes with a price tag too prohibitively steep for most families). 

"Should parents have to play this roulette with their weeks-old infant?" Scorah asks in her essay, and rightly so.

"To do all they can possibly do to ensure that their baby is safe, only to be relying on a child-care worker’s competence or attentiveness or mood that day?"

She continues: "This article isn’t about day-care safety. This isn’t an indictment of the company I work for; I had one of the better parental leave policies of anyone I know. What this article is about is that my infant died in the care of a stranger, when he should have been with me. Our culture demanded it."

It's beyond heartbreaking, and beyond frustrating, too. No parents should be forced to leave their children before they feel ready simply because there's no other way to put food on the table. Deaths like Karl's are rare, sure, but even ONE baby dying in daycare is too many. We talk a lot in this country about children being the future and family values, but we're so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to actually implementing policies that promote healthy, happy lives for our kids. As a mother of three, I can't even begin to fathom Scorah's anguish. It's too much to bear. And it's something she'll be forced to carry with her for the rest of her life.


Image via John Sheldon/Flickr

Read More >