Andre and Debra Hadnot are struggling with conflicting feelings that jump from anger to relief to attacks of 'What ifs.' They are not sure how to deal with the shock of finding out their day-care provider left their daughter and eight other children alone for an hour last week.
"We both feel she broke a trust," Debra Hadnot said Sunday. "But it's difficult for us. We know her family, her children, her husband."
Looking down at her 21-month-old daughter, Nia, the mother said, "You know how parents are about their children."
The Hadnots live across the street from Liza Rickard, who may face criminal charges for neglecting the children, ranging in age from infants to 3 years. Her own daughter was among those left alone.
Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, said the children were not harmed, but investigators may issue felony charges later in the week.
"We've been going back and forth with that," Andre Hadnot said. "You're just torn about your feelings. Initially, you’re angry."
AUTHORITIES FOUND the children in cribs in a darkened room last Thursday. "The Department of Social Services asked her to voluntarily surrender her license, and she did," Hollie Cammarasana, public relations practitioner for the Virginia Department of Social Services, said Friday. Rickard has violated other standards since opening her home business Dec. 4, 2003.
Rickard's husband, Eric, said Sunday that his wife "feels very sorry."
"She feels like she let her parents down. She misses her kids. When you are in this business, you get close to the kids."
He said his wife normally has two helpers at their League Court home near Lowes Island Elementary School, but she was shorthanded. Andre Hadnot said one assistant resigned a week ago Friday, and the other called in sick.
ERIC RICKARD said his wife was worried that their son was going to be "stranded" at his private school in Reston, but he declined to explain how his son normally gets home.
"For some reason, she felt compelled to pick up him up. She was panicked about it," he said.
Liza Rickard, 37, obviously was not thinking clearly, he said. "Maybe she was fatigued from her trip."
The day-care provider recently returned from a Christian mission trip to Africa. An accomplished singer, the mother of three has made southern gospel recordings.
He said the children were sleeping, and his wife knew they would not be up for an hour. "She thought she could make a mad dash to the school," he said.
She made the 10- to 15-minute drive. Unfortunately, the dogs leaned against the car door locks when she went inside the school, Eric Rickard said. She had to call a locksmith.
Meanwhile, a Department of Social Services inspector and a Loudoun Child Protective Services social worker went to the family home day care on an unrelated complaint about 2:30 p.m. last Thursday. Ron Eamich, assistant director of Social Services, said he was prohibited from disclosing the nature of the complaint, because it was under investigation.
Troxell said they knocked on the door, and when there was no response, they went to the rear of the home. They heard a child cry, so they called the Sheriff’s Office. Authorities were about to forcibly enter, when Liza Rickard came home.
ERIC RICKARD SAID his wife is remorseful. "She said, 'I don't know what made me go get my son."
He said his wife had never left any children alone, including their own. Their neighbor, Debbie Hyndman, agreed. "She has a really good head on her shoulders," she said. "She wouldn't even come over to my house. She wouldn't leave them and I'm right next door."
Andre Hadnot said Liza Rickard called Thursday night. "She was crying. She was apologizing," he said. "In the end, Nia was fine."
Debra Hadnot said the problem is that anything could have happened. "They're at that age," she said. She asked what if the toddlers climbed on the furniture, knocked things over or hit one another. A friend called the Hadnots during the weekend and asked what if a fire had broken out.
Andre Hadnot said it's easier to offer some understanding, because the children were not harmed. Otherwise, it would have been inexcusable.
Their daughter was content at the family home day care. "She didn't cry when we left her off," Debra said. "She was clean and happy."
They said they did not want to see Rickard face criminal charges. "We don't want her to lose everything," Debra Hadnot said.
Andre Hadnot nodded. "We don't hate her. We don't want her to be hurt anymore. We don't want her painted like a monster."
The couple said Liza Rickard asked for their prayers. "I pray for her," Andre Hadnot said. "She made a really stupid decision."
THEY QUESTIONED whether it was a coincidence that authorities showed up at the house while the provider was away. "I think someone called and reported her," Debra Hadnot said.
The Hadnots are planning to find a licensed day-care center, rather than a licensed home, for Nia. "This has pushed us into it," she said. "We have to take time off [from work] to find good child care."
They said they would like to contact some of the other parents, but they don't have their names and phone numbers. Debra Hadnot said she will make sure she obtains parent names in the new day care. And she'll check the business' record.
Anyone can investigate the violations of a licensed family home or day-care center with six or more children by visiting www.dss.state.va.us. The county and some of the towns within it have their own set of ordinances governing day care, including the need for a business license even when the home has fewer than five children.
Andre Hadnot was home working when authorities entered the day-care home. Debra Hadnot came home from work and asked what was going on across the street. The father rushed to find out. His first encounter was a tearful mother. She told him that their children had been left alone.
"I ran. I didn't see anything until I saw her [Nia]."
Rickard also was in violation of not having enough helpers to take care of nine children. The state, which licenses family home and day-care centers, has a mandated ratio of adults to children in a center. The formula is based on a point system, with the highest point given to infants. Each caregiver is not to exceed 16 points, without an assistant.
Under the state’s policy, four points are attributed to each child from birth to 15 months old, three points for each child from 16 months through 23 months old, two points for each child 2 to 4 years old, one point for each child 5 to 9 years old. Children who are 10 years of age and older count as "zero" points. Even if Liza Rickard had two assistants present, she still won't have met the state requirements Cammarasana said. "Even if she had been there, she wouldn’t have complied with the ratios required.
JIM PARCELLI, LICENSING administrator for the Fairfax-area office of the state Department of Social Services, said Rickard received a conditional license in 2003. She renewed it May 24, 2004. The first complaint was made in October 2004. As the primary caregiver, she was to be at the day care 51 percent of the time. She was there only 33 percent of the time, with the two assistants handling the rest of the care. "After that, she complied [until Thursday] as far as we know," he said.
A second complaint was made Feb. 18 of this year. Parcelli said she was cited for giving Tylenol to a child without: having written authorization, recording the amount given, writing the time it was given, and acknowledging who gave it. During that visit, inspectors also found that there were not enough caregivers to meet the ratio. There were eight children in the home, representing 24 points. In that case, Rickard and one assistant were on hand. The third assistant arrived before the inspectors left. The inspectors also found an outlet with a cover missing and wires exposed in the "play nap room."
Parcelli said no sanctions were imposed. He said providers can be fined up to $500 per violation for health and safety issues.
ERIC RICKARD said the parent told one of the assistants to give the child the Tylenol even though she did not have written permission. "One of the helpers thought she was helping the parent," he said. The other violation involved telephone wires, he said.
Eric Rickard said his wife was not at home and therefore was unavilable for comment.