Popular Park Slope Daycare Violated Safety Rules, Authorities Say

By Leslie Albrecht on June 10, 2013 7:13am 

 Natalie's Sunflower day care operates out of 263 Eighth Street near Fifth Avenue. The state Office of Children and Family Services revoked the facility's license but the owner is fighting the action.
Natalie's Sunflower day care operates out of 263 Eighth Street near Fifth Avenue. The state Office of Children and Family Services revoked the facility's license but the owner is fighting the action.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

PARK SLOPE — State authorities have yanked the license of a Park Slope day care facility because it allegedly failed to adequately supervise children in its care.

The state's Office of Children and Family Services revoked the license for Natalie's Sunflower Child Care at 238 Eighth St. after inspectors found too many children at the site and not enough adults watching them.

Owner Natalia Baechko is fighting the action and filed a petition in New York State Supreme Court last month to reverse the decision. A judge is scheduled to review the matter at a July hearing.

Baechko runs two separately licensed day cares out of the Eighth Street house — one in the front part of the building and one in the back. She continues to operate the day care in the front of the house, which still has a valid license.

Baechko was out of the country and couldn't be interviewed by phone, but in an email she called the state's enforcement actions "bureaucracy and technicality."

"We are still fighting and I hope common sense will win," Baechko wrote. "This rule is not protecting children, but creating a waste of taxpayers' money for unnecessary inspectors' visits [and] hearings and directs child care owners' attention from children's needs."

Baechko runs several day cares for infants and toddlers — two in Park Slope and one in Carroll Gardens. She also operates two preschool programs for 2- to 5-year-olds in Park Slope and one in Prospect Heights.

The facilities have won positive reviews from parents. Brooklyn Mamas dubbed the Sunflower chain one of Brooklyn's "five great day cares," and New York Mom's World called it a "great option for those moms who have to get back to work" because Sunflower accepts babies as young as 3 months old.

Both sites noted that Sunflower's fees — up to $12 an hour — are relatively high, but worth the price. A reviewer on Park Slope Parents praised Sunflower's "loving and compassionate" staff. "My daughter loves them and I truly feel the mutual excitement when she is there," the parent wrote.

 Sunflower Academy, a preschool on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, is one of several sites operated by Natalia Baechko. State authorities revoked the license for a day care Baechko runs at 263 Eighth Street.
Sunflower Academy, a preschool on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, is one of several sites operated by Natalia Baechko. State authorities revoked the license for a day care Baechko runs at 263 Eighth Street.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

But authorities said a series of inspections of Sunflower's Eighth Street facility revealed that children weren't being properly supervised, according to a court filing.

In one instance, inspectors found three caregivers watching nine children, but state rules mandate that there should have been four adults supervising the children.

During another visit, inspectors found 11 babies at the day care when there should have been a maximum of 10.

Inspectors also discovered "unapproved caregivers” working at the day care on more than one occasion. During one visit, the site director tried to conceal the identity of an unapproved caregiver by giving the inspector a false name and birth date, according to a court filing.

"They did not cooperate with the inspector — they provided false information to conceal an inadequate supervision of children violation," state inspectors said in the filing. Baechko told DNAinfo New York the employee was licensed to work at one of her other facilities.

Baechko requested a hearing to plead her case earlier this year. She and her partner testified that the "staffing issues are minor mistakes or just human error." They said the day care can be over capacity because parents sometimes don't pick up their kids on time from the morning session, leaving too many children at the site for a brief period during the afternoon.

But an administrative law judge affirmed the license revocation, writing in court documents that Baechko "needs to be aware of how many children she has in care and who is supervising her day care children."

The judge also upheld a $200 fine issued for the violations. The state issues the fines for violations it considers "serious," meaning that they could place children at risk for "physical, mental or emotional harm."

At the July hearing, Baechko will have another chance to argue her case.

The licenses for Baechko's other facilities are in good standing, according to state records.

Baechko's attorney, Nicholas Kowalchyn, said his client has tried to follow the "strict" guidelines governing day care facilities.

"We have no problem with the state carefully carrying out these guidelines because they obviously have a compelling interest in making sure these children are protected," Kowalchyn said.

"From what I’ve seen, my client has attempted to comply with the letter and the spirit of all the rules and regulations. When any shortcomings have been brought to her attention, she’s expeditiously moved to correct problems."

He added, "We're hopeful that the court will see my client has attempted to comply with the law."

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