Update January 14, 2014
On February 20, 2013, the South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the Department of Social Services (“DSS”) finding that Rebecca Elliott’s name should have been placed on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect. The Court of Appeals found that the family court erred in concluding that substantial evidence supported the decision of DSS, thus exonerating Ms. Elliott of child abuse allegations. A link to the Court of Appeals decision is provided.
An Upstate mother says her young son came home from daycare with bruises on his body.
And only after "7 On Your Side" pressed them for answers did DSS disclose findings of child abuse, from its investigation.
Now, nearly two years after the alleged incident, News Channel 7's Jonathan Carlson uncovered--the daycare owner investigated in the case--is still in business--as the boy's parents wait for justice.
Tina Blanton happily shows us pictures of her 5 year old son Hunter.
But what she and DSS investigators say happened nearly two years ago, in August of 2008 at the Startex Children's Learning Center, made her furious.
"She beat him. She took him out and beat him," said Blanton.
She says her son was 3 at the time and in daycare at the facility in Spartanburg County. He was under the care of owner and operator Becky Elliot.
Blanton admits her son had some behavior problems, but what she says Elliot did when her son wouldn't go to sleep--left her shocked.
"Got him home, pulled his pants down--all the way down his butt was black and blue."
Blanton says Elliot later admitted to her she spanked the boy at least four times. She provided News Channel 7 with photos of the child's bruises.
"She had told me with her own words--he had just pissed me off."
The next day, she and Hunter's father called the sheriffs office.
Deputies took a report and photographs of the child's bruises. But Blanton opted not to press criminal charges.
The Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office tells us they didn't make an arrest.
Instead, the Department Of Social Services was alerted.
"I went through DSS so my son wouldn't have to go through any legal aspect of it," said Blanton.
The sheriff's office also says with the parents refusing to prosecute they didn't think a criminal case could go forward.
Through the Freedom Of Information Act, "7 On Your Side" obtained the documents in the DSS investigation of Becky Elliot.
The documents show DSS investigated Becky Elliott and determined the injuries were child abuse.
An investigator wrote, "...the discipline policies should not include corporal punishment."
DSS tells us a "safety plan" was put into place immediately to "minimize risks to children".
Elliot appealed the DSS findings and was required to sign a form that promised she would not be alone with children while the case is on appeal.
DSS says someone else watches the children while Elliot operates the center.
How is she able to do that while facing allegations of abuse? DSS says under state law Elliot can operate while under the family court appeals process.
And that process can take years say lawmakers.
We wanted to know---does current South Carolina law do enough to protect children?
State Representative Bruce Bannister admits--the system needs reform.
(Reporter: "As a lawmaker is there anything you can do to speed up the process?")
"We have started asking the judicial candidates that are coming through to concentrate on making the court system more efficient," said Rep. Bannister.
(Reporter: "Is it fair to the families to have to wait this long?"}
"A lot of times the delay is justice delayed, justice denied. And no its not. That's one of the motivating factors to make the decisions faster."
Becky Elliot initially refused multiple requests for comment.
When we visited the learning center, she told us to turn off our camera, saying, "I'm not gonna get into with you."
Monday July 5th, Elliot responded with a written statement. It reads:
"For 2 years I have been following DSS procedures for review of this matter. The evidence has not yet been presented to a court. The mother gave me written permission to spank her child.
I vehemently deny the use of excessive corporal punishment.
The physical evidence and the transcript of record indicate alternative explanations for how the bruising took place. The parents did not follow the recommendation of DSS to take the child to a doctor or the Child Advocacy Center to determine what the marks were and exactly when and how they occurred. The parents did not follow the advise from DSS and law enforcement to conduct a forensic interview of the child which would have prompted DSS to take a closer look at the child's home life.
I have worked in child care for 25 years, 15 as a Director, and have never had any allegations prior to or since this allegation."
Tina Blanton responded to that statement, denying she or the child's father had any involvement in the bruises. She admits the child wasn't taken to the doctor, because the bruises were gone by the time an appointment was available.
DSS says they have received no reports or complaints that any child has been harmed in this facility since the August 2008 incident.
Tina Blanton says shortly after she discovered the bruises on her son, she spoke with Ms. Elliot, who told her she didn't mean to hurt the child.
"I was hurt, just because I trusted her," Blanton said.
Its important to note Ms. Elliot has not been charged with a crime, and she could win her appeal. However, DSS says they will vigorously defend its investigation.
This, as Tina Blanton keeps asking questions.
"Justice hasn't been served whatsoever," she says.
DSS says they continue to make announced and unannounced visits to Startex Learning Center to make sure that "safety plan" is being followed.
Since "7 On Your Side" brought this to the attention of state lawmakers, Representative Bruce Bannister says he plans to start discussion at the statehouse this fall about possibly reforming the laws that allow people like daycare owners to continue operating in light of DSS findings on appeal.
He says until something like this is brought to legislators attention they often are unaware of the concern. And he encourages parents to call their legislator.
He also says DSS findings like this should immediately be made public.
Again, its taken nearly two years for this to come to light.
Finally, we wanted to know what punishment Becky Elliot could face should she lose her appeal?
DSS tells us Elliot would be placed on a registry and could potentially be prohibited from being at the facility when children are present, or DSS could take the legal steps to close the facility. but its no guarantee the facility would close.
Report Child Abuse In South Carolina
South Carolina - Report by County (in state)
803-898-7318 (out of state, business hours only)
National child abuse hotline 800-422-4453