Tragedy leads Soldier, wife to activism
April 30, 2009
Kendra Gaddie's parents want to prevent as many children and families from having to experience the pain that they had to endure.
A little more than 13 months ago, Kendra was struck on the left side of her head while in the care of a home day care operator. The blow to the infant's head caused brain and retinal hemorrhaging, according to her parents and media reports.
The home day care operator has pleaded guilty to the felony charge of great bodily injury to a child, and she was sentenced to five years probation.
Kendra's parents, Staff Sgt. Patrick Gaddie, 171st Infantry Brigade, and wife Michelle, believe that because of the "heinous act," the convicted day care operator should have received jail time.
Since last March, the Gaddies have pushed South Carolina lawmakers to strengthen sentencing requirements for people convicted of child brutality. As of now, the jail sentence for a person charged and convicted of causing great bodily injury to a child is zero to 20 years.
"There are some cases and some crimes where probation should never be an option," said Michelle Gaddie.
The Gaddies said they are amazed and disappointed that such a lenient sentence could be applied to a case involving serious harm to a child. Following the incident, the then 6-month-old Kendra spent days in a hospital intensive care unit and she is undergoing months of developmental therapy.
"What we would like to see is that the minimum sentence is from two to 20 years. We want to make sure some jail time is served," Staff Sgt. Gaddie said.
The Gaddies have launched a "Justice for Kendra" Web site and have inspired Senate Bill 348, also known as "Kendra's Act." The bill calls for mandatory jail time for those who are convicted for crimes in which a child is seriously harmed. The mandatory sentence would be at least two years.
Some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the bill's requirement for mandatory minimum sentencing. It will likely be next year before, and if, the bill passes.
"We will see this through - however long it takes," said Michelle Gaddie.
The Gaddies said they have also filed a motion to have the home day care operator's probation-only sentence reconsidered. The case is being reviewed to determine whether there is a legal basis to change the sentence.
Michelle Gaddie said she is pleased the judge is taking the time to review the case and is examining all sides of the issue.
In addition to tougher sentencing in child injury cases, the Gaddies also hope that Kendra's Act makes it law for home day care workers to undergo yearly child care and safety training. Currently, there is no such requirement.
"There is a lot that needs to be done. The people who run these home day cares ... are only required to register with DSS. There are no requirements for training," Michelle Gaddie said.
Marilyn Matheus, a media relations staffer at the S.C. Department of Social Services, said home day care operators caring for six children or fewer, register with the agency via an application.
Those operators caring for more than six children are required to meet additional standards.
According to the DSS Child Care Services Web site, home day care operators with seven to 12 children must have some formal child development or child education training or at least three years of experience working in a registered and approved child care facility.
Every weekend, Staff Sgt. Gaddie said he and his wife travel out of town, visiting various communities, to spread the word about what happened to their now 19-month-old daughter and the need for better child care laws in South Carolina.
In addition to Kendra, the Gaddies have a 19-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.
Another son, Patrick Jr., died about four years ago.
Staff Sgt. Gaddie said despite the hardships, his family is strong and hopeful. The weekend trips, sharing their story, have been good for all of them.
"It is therapeutic. It brings awareness (to other parents) about what's going on. Ninety-nine percent (of the people we talk to) are parents. We're letting people know victims have a voice," Staff Sgt. Gaddie said.