Mother questions how toddler was hurt at babysitter's house

A bruised toddler raises questions about who or what caused the injuries. (WSYX/WTTE)

A mother is searching for answers after her toddler was hurt at the babysitter’s house and officials say there’s not enough evidence to definitively know what happened.

Elizabeth Mezie told ABC 6 On Your Side that she was alerted by the babysitter that her toddler had been hurt one February day. The babysitter told Mezie through text messages that her son, Maddox, was apparently pushed “so hard” into a coffee table by the babysitter’s toddler, while she was tending to other children.

“My first thought was just something’s not right,” Mezie said. “My stomach just dropped when I saw him.”

No charges were filed against the babysitter and police called her denials of hurting the toddler, “truthful,” according to the police report.

“It didn’t look like something a 2-year-old could do,” Mezie said. “I just think about what he probably went through inside his head, that I wasn’t there to protect him.”

The babysitter told Mezie she punished her own son after claiming he pushed Maddox. However, three hours later, more messages came from the babysitter of another injury claiming Maddox was bitten on the ear.

“The not knowing and hoping it’s not abuse, it’s just a really difficult situation for parents to be in,” Miriam Mohamed, director of Child Advocacy Centers said.

Mohamad said it’s important adults looks for signs of abuse like unexplained or chronic bruising, especially on soft parts of the body.

With Maddox, the babysitter got in touch with his mother, but that’s not always the case. One of the worst effects on children, Mohamad explained, is when suspected child abuse goes unreported.

“We want to make sure that that child is not put at any more risk, is not going to have any kind of post-traumatic symptoms, and is going to be receiving the mental health and victim’s services that they actually need toward healing,” she said.

Before the day in question, Maddox’s parents never saw any physical injuries. That day, they took him to a hospital in Knox County near their Mt. Vernon home. The exam, doctors said, proved suspicious for abuse and recommended the toddler be evaluated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Doctors at Nationwide Children’s found moderate bruising and bite marks. With multiple stories of how the injuries happened, the hospital referred the abuse report to Knox County Children’s Services.

Over the next few weeks, police and children’s services investigated. The babysitter, who cooperated with the investigation, denied causing the toddler’s injuries, according to the police report. The detective believed she was “truthful” with her answers but given the “gravity” of the incident the report was still sent to the prosecutor for review.

In mid-March, a letter from children’s services arrived at the Mezie’s home regarding the allegation of child abuse. Knox County confirmed the medical evidence and substantiated that physical abuse had occurred.

Despite attempts to reach the babysitter and visit her at her house, ABC 6 On Your Side Investigates did not get any response or comment about what may have happened.

“These are cases that we take very seriously,” Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville said. “We try to react to them as quickly as we can.”

Prosecutor McConville said just in Knox County more than two dozen reports of child abuse are reviewed every year for potential criminal charges. In Maddox’s case, no charges were filed against the babysitter.

“We have to look at whether or not we can prove a crime was committed,” McConville said.

In one case in Mt. Vernon, prosecutors proved a baby’s burns could not have been an accident. It was so bad, the 5-month-old’s leg had to be amputated. The mother’s boyfriend who was watching the baby was convicted and is now in jail.

That’s unlike Maddox’s case where the injuries weren’t considered severe and how it happened is open to question.

“There were some good sized bruises on this child’s face,” McConville said.

The prosecutor said with children too young to speak and only the babysitter’s explanation, there’s no definitive way to know what actually happened to cause the injuries in question. It’s a common issue in cases involving allegations of abuse.

To avoid questionable situations, there are tips regarding ways to better protect:

  • Consider having at least two adults babysitting small children, especially when there are other children present.
  • Find out how a caregiver will monitor interactions between them.
  • Vet caregivers and child care centers, which can be done online through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
  • Request background checks from babysitters or child care providers.
  • Manage children’s internet exposure and whom they’re interacting with.

Maddox is now healed and healthy but it hasn’t erased the images his mother thinks about every day.

“I think about it every single day,” Mezie said. “It just makes it even harder that I probably will never know exactly what happened.”

There are roughly 7,755 childcare licenses in the State of Ohio but of that, only close to 90 are licensed as a home daycare. Many of them are not required to be.

Since last summer, ABC 6 On Your Side Investigates found 87 childcare centers have been closed or licenses revoked, suspended or awaiting a hearing decision because of serious safety violations.

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