Mother of child who died in day care fire speaks out to panel

March 29, 2011 3:49:45 PM PDT
A day care operator who fled to Nigeria after a fire that killed four children remains jailed awaiting trial. In the meantime, day care owners and licensing officials are gathering to discuss lessons that can be learned from the tragedy. The fire happened one month and five days ago, taking four lives, injuring three more children and affecting an entire community. On Tuesday industry groups met to talk about what to do to safeguard against such a tragedy in the future. In the audience was a mother still grieving.

In a room full of experts, child care professionals, an assistant fire and police chief, there was a 19-year-old woman whose experience mattered more than nearly anyone there. She is a young mother without a son.

Keisha Brown, the mother of a fire victim, said, "I needed to stay for him and the only reason I stayed was for Elias -- the only reason is stayed."

Elias Castillo was one of the four toddlers who died a month ago in the home day care that 22-year-old Jessica Tata operated, and left while she went to the store, leaving seven children alone in a house that caught fire a few minutes later. Elias was Keisha Brown's only child.

Brown asked, "Could they maybe do more training to see if they can even care for kids beforehand? Because if they can't care for the children, then they're Jessica."

The panel discussion was arranged by Applebaum Training Institute that trains child care personnel. Since the day Tata's home day care caught fire, the industry has been under an intense microscope and yet the problem, the professional child care association says, is not the training required. The problem, its director says, is that Tata should never have been granted a license.

Shirley Silts, with the Professional Home Child Care Association, said, "She started two fires in her high school. So she lied on this form. So what's the department supposed to do? They're doing their best."

City leaders are working on a plan to tighten rules for home day care operators in Houston. A proposed ordinance would change the number of required inspections from every two years to every year. Inspectors will be looking for things like working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other requirements set by the states. Daycare providers will be charged $125 for the inspection.