Crime & Courts

A lesson seen in case of burned boy in Butler County

Mary Ann Garrett
Mary Ann Garrett Courtesy of Butler County Jail

Leah Booth’s 2-year-old grandson needed someone to take care of him while his single mother worked the night shift.

Booth’s daughter interviewed several people, “and someone mentioned Mary Ann to her,” Booth says. That’s Mary Ann Garrett, a 45-year-old grandmother who, according to a friend of the family, was great with kids.

Then, on Oct. 27, the 2-year-old suffered second- and third-degree burns on his lower body. This past Wednesday, Butler County prosecutors charged Garrett with felony child abuse and interference with law enforcement. Garrett – an unlicensed child care operator at her home outside El Dorado – confessed to a sheriff’s detective that she sprayed hot water onto the 2-year-old as part of her potty-training discipline after he soiled his pants, Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet said. At first, she blamed the injuries on another child in her care, Herzet said.

Now, as the state is reviewing whether Garrett was required to obtain a child care license, the sheriff and the boy’s grandmother are saying the case shows the importance of knowing everything about a child’s caregivers.

“I want this to bring awareness,” said Booth, the grandmother.

It’s vital to check references, do background checks, drop in on the provider, listen to your child and always keep monitoring, Booth and Herzet say. People who need help checking out a potential caregiver can contact his office, Herzet said, “and we’ll give them as much information as we can” from open records. The sheriff’s number to call, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, is 316-322-4254.

Garrett’s defense attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.

Although state law requires someone to get a license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment if child care is being provided, there are exceptions, said KDHE spokeswoman Aimee Rosenow. “A person may be exempt under two conditions,” Rosenow said in an e-mail Friday. “First, if the children are related to the provider. Second, if the provider is caring for two or fewer unrelated children and for no more than a combined total of 20 hours a week.”

Garrett is not related to the boy and had him for much more than 20 hours a week, Booth said. Booth said she thinks her grandson is the only child Garrett regularly watched. Garrett occasionally cared for a couple of other children, Booth said.

Garrett wrote in an affidavit she filed in seeking a court-appointed attorney that she has been unemployed for four years, that she is divorced and that she has three grandchildren, ages 11 months to 5 years, who are dependents.

“There was no sign whatsoever that made us believe anything but good about this person,” Booth said.

Referring to the felony child abuse charge against Garrett, allegedly over potty training, Booth said, “How can you get so mad at a little kid?” The criminal complaint filed in Butler County District Court says Garrett “did knowingly inflict cruel and inhumane corporal punishment.”

Potty training can trigger stress in caregivers that can result in abuse, experts say.

The boy had to spend a month in a Wichita hospital burn unit. He suffered burns on about 30 percent of his lower body, from his groin down to the top of his feet. The pain was so bad, he got regular morphine and had to overcome an infection, Booth said. Now that he is back home and recovering, it still hurts him when he has to bend his legs, completely wrapped in bandages.

“So he kind of walks like Forrest Gump with braces,” Booth said, referring to the film character played by Tom Hanks.

The damaged skin itches and pulls as he tries to walk, and he constantly scratches at his wounds, Booth said.

“Poor little guy.”

His mother gently coaxes him through physical therapy every day, helping him to stretch.

“He had a good Christmas,” Booth said. Her grandson got blocks and toy trucks and tractors, “everything a little boy would want.”

A nurse comes every other day to change the bandages. “He just cries the moment she walks in the door … because it hurts,” Booth said. He gets pain medication to help get through it.

“You just try to console him,” the grandmother said.

“My hope, again, is that he doesn’t remember any of this when he gets older. I don’t want him to have any emotional … any trauma from this when he gets older,” she said. “The scars are going to be there. I’m sure he’ll have questions about that. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when get there.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

Finding child care

Child Care Aware of Kansas offers a referral service for parents looking for child care. Go to http://www.ks.childcareaware.org/ or call 877-678-2548.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment licenses child care providers. To find out if a child care facility has a license and to read inspection findings, go to https://kscapportalp.dcf.ks.gov/oids/.

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