A Greene County unlicensed day care provider was charged Monday with two felony counts of child abuse.
One charge stems from a 2013 incident in which a 5-month-old suffered a skull fracture. Three years later, before being charged in the 2013 incident, the woman allegedly hurt another baby, causing a skull fracture and brain bleed.
Rachel Slawson, 34, was arrested Monday afternoon and held on a $25,000 bond. The News-Leader first reported Slawson was being investigated for child abuse in September 2013, but investigators did not send that case to the prosecutor until June of 2016.
In the meantime, Slawson moved her in-home day care facility out of city limits into the county and another child is suspected of being injured. Slawson is charged with another count of child abuse after a doctor said a child in her care was likely shaken in July of 2016.
According to the probable cause statement in that case, Slawson had used her phone to search the internet for topics such as "how to stop stressing when a baby is crying," "why do I get so mad when my baby cries," "symptoms of infant concussion" and "shaken baby syndrome."
Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson said Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Wan had just begun reviewing the 2013 case when she learned of the July 2016 incident.
Asked why it took three years to send the 2013 case to a prosecutor, police spokeswoman Lisa Cox said, "Any of our cases regarding crimes against children are examined very thoroughly, and this one happened to involve a large amount of witnesses, interviews and even detectives over the course of the investigation."
Patterson did say that some of the evidence in the 2016 investigation helps show the 2013 incident was not an accident and that in some head injury cases, it can be difficult to determine who or what caused the injuries.
This is not the first time Slawson's name has come across the prosecutor's and investigators' desks. In June of 2013, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services sent a letter to the prosecutor's office, detailing incidents in which Slawson reportedly had more than four unrelated children in her care, Missouri's limit for unlicensed care providers.
According to that letter, a Springfield police officer observed 19 children in her care in June of 2013. Later, a Missouri child care facility specialist conducted an unannounced inspection and found eight children. In August of 2013, that same specialist conducted another unannounced follow-up inspection and found seven children, six of which were unrelated.
Patterson said no charges were filed against Slawson for having too many children at her day care because she came into compliance by reducing the number of children.
According to sheriff's office records, Slawson was also investigated for child neglect in 2007 and for child abuse in 2009. In both cases, Children's Division also investigated but it does not appear charges were filed.
According to a probable cause statement from the Springfield Police Department, officers were dispatched to Mercy Hospital on Sept. 13, 2013, in reference to a 5-month-old with a skull fracture. When the mother, Elizabeth Kepler, picked up her baby around 5:45 p.m., she said Slawson said to her, "by the way, he has a bump on his head, maybe a bug bite." Kepler noticed the bump and took the child to the hospital.
There, Kepler's child was diagnosed with a left parietal skull fracture, intracranial bleed and scalp hematoma and the injury was described as a non-accidental trauma, according to the statement. The child was released from the hospital the next day.
According to the statement, Slawson gave different possible explanations for what occurred when interviewed by police. Slawson said an 18-month-old child hit the injured child with a chair. When confronted with the fact that an 18-month-old couldn't throw a chair, Slawson said it was a 4-year-old who threw the chair, the statement said.
Kepler told the News-Leader her child ended up with a small fracture and "luckily there is no neurological damage." She said when she initially met and interviewed Slawson as a potential child care provider, there were only three other kids there.
"She presented very nice and professional, and you think it's going to be a great place for your child," she said in an earlier interview. "I learned my lesson the hard way and luckily my son is OK."
After learning charges had been filed, Kepler said she was relieved.
"I'm glad we met the statute of limitations and that justice will be served for my son," she said.
According to a probable cause statement from the Greene County Sheriff's Office, investigators responded on July 21, 2016, to Slawson's in-home day care regarding an 8-month-old child who was having difficulty breathing. The child was transported by ambulance to Cox South Hospital where he was found to have a skull fracture and possible brain bleed. The medical report stated the injury was a left subdural hematoma.
When asked if the child had sustained a head injury, the mom recalled that on July 6, 2016, Slawson had told her that the child sustained a head injury. Slawson told the mom that the baby had fallen asleep in a car-shaped bouncy chair, slumped forward and hit his head on the steering wheel. When the mom got the child home, he threw up so she took him to the hospital. An X-ray did not show any skull fractures so he was released from the hospital
According to the statement, the mother told investigators that after July 6, her child was "not acting right, not eating right, and acting lethargic for a long period of time." She took him to the hospital where no sign of injuries were found. Patterson said that is often the case with brain injuries.
According to Cox Hospital medical records, the baby was admitted to the hospital with "obvious non-accidental trauma" and that there were "bilateral retinal hemorrhages, involving multiple layers and in various configurations-non-accidental trauma, specifically shaking," the statement said.
In the statement, a Cox Hospital doctor said it was possible the head injury could have been caused by his injury on July 6 because the fracture was small. The doctor also said the injury that occurred on July 6 was not consistent with Slawson's explanation.
A friend has set up a Go Fund Me page to help pay for that child's ongoing medical expenses. Find it at gofundme.com/2gwn9w4.
The forensic examination of her phone found that on July 6, the date of the first injury, Slawson searched the internet for these topics: how to stop stressing when a baby is crying, why do I get so mad when my baby cries, why do people snap when their babies cry (the page she visited this search was titled, "When a Crying Baby Makes You So Angry You Might Hurt Them,") anger management classes, symptoms of an infant concussion, infant bleeding on the brain, infant concussion treatment, symptoms of subdural hematoma in infants, signs and symptoms of subdural hematoma in infants, and shaken baby syndrome, according to the statement.
Other children from Slawson's day care were given forensic interviews at the Child Advocacy Center. One child, age 9, told the interviewer that "when Slawson holds the babies she will vibrate them" and demonstrated this by holding a baby doll by the waist and moving it forward and backward, causing the doll's head to move in the same fashion. Another child, age 8, demonstrated a similar action with a doll when describing how Slawson sometimes handles children.
Another child, age 7, told the interviewer Slawson threw a 1-year-old onto its bed and that Slawson "will toss babies into the air and pats their backs really hard to put them to sleep," the statement said. That same child said when Slawson does this to the child who suffered a head injury in July, "it makes him cry harder."
One child, age 10, told the interviewer that she saw Slawson kick another child, age 2, in the back, causing the child to fall down as well as dragging him by the arm, the statement said.
A 9-month-old child, according to the statement, came home with a small bruise on her back that Slawson said was caused by another 9-month-old crawling on her back. The same child was injured again while in Slawson's care, sustaining a large bruise that Slawson reportedly said happened when she bumped her head on a chair. That child also sustained several red marks on the bridge of her nose as well as a possible injury below her right eye.
According to the statement, Slawson told the mother the injuries were possibly self-inflicted and that Slawson did not know how they happened.
Another child, age 4, sustained an injury above his right eye, according to the statement. Slawson reportedly said she put a broom between two children to stop them from wrestling and "his head hit the broom."
During an interview with Slawson, she denied knowing how the 8-month-old child sustained a skull fracture or subdural hematoma while in her care, the statement said.
In a press release announcing the charges, Patterson said this case "provides an important reminder that there are resources available to parents looking for quality child care, pre-school or after-school programs for their children.
"Child Care Aware of Missouri provides a free parent toolkit and child care referrals and can be found on the web at mo.childcareaware.org/parents-families/find-quality-child-care/ or by calling 1-800-200-9017. Information on how to obtain a background screening of a potential child care provider is also available from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at health.mo.gov/safety/fcsr/ or by calling 1-866-422-6872."
Through a Sunshine Law request, the News-Leader obtained two earlier investigative reports from the Greene County Sheriff's office involving Slawson.
In 2009, while she was an employee at the Safe & Sound Daycare Center in Springfield, Slawson was investigated for child abuse. According to that report, another employee said she observed Slawson become angry with a 3-year-old. That employee told investigators that Slawson grabbed the child by both arms and threw him onto a cot, resulting in the child hitting his head and causing injuries.
Children's Division also investigated, but it does not appear that charges were filed. Slawson was fired from the day care, the report said.
In 2007 Slawson was investigated for child neglect when a 4-year-old she was baby-sitting was found 10-12 houses away with no supervision. Deputies were dispatched to a house in southeast Springfield where the young girl was found. The deputy walked with the child down the street in an attempt to locate her parents' home.
Rachel Slawson was eventually contacted and said she was babysitting the child. According to the report, the deputy told Slawson that the child had been in the custody of unknown strangers for over an hour.
"(Slawson) responded with, 'Well I figured she was out playing with the neighborhood kids,'" and that, "(Slawson) acted as if the situation was normal," the report said.
Children's Division investigated this case but it does not appear charges were ever filed.
Slawson does not have an attorney listed.