Sex Abuse in Day Care

For most working families, day care is more than a convenience. It is a necessity that allows them to achieve a better standard of living. Sexual abuse of children in day care is relatively rare. But when it does occur, its impact on both parents and children may be felt for many years and be difficult to overcome.

Types of Day Care

Day care settings may be licensed or unlicensed. They may be more formal and institutional, such as preschools, with a trained professional and semi-professional staff. They may also be medium-sized and less formal as to structure and staff training, or small family-run operations in the home. Although day care homes seem to pose a greater risk of sexual abuse than day care centers or preschools, even model programs can turn out to be harmful and unsafe. The common denominator in all day care settings is that, to a greater or lesser degree, adults and adolescents are allowed ready access to children, sometimes for hours on end without much supervision.

Who Are the Abusers?

Day care centers employ a variety of individuals, any one of whom may have the inclination and opportunity to abuse a child in their care. Regular staff may include:

  • Teachers
  • Teacher’s Aides
  • Administrators and Directors
  • Janitors
  • Bus Drivers
  • Volunteers

In family day care, husbands, sons, grandfathers and other relatives, boyfriends and neighbors may have access to children in the home. A most recent case of day care sex abuse involved the teen-aged son of the owner and, in two other instances, the husbands of the primary caretakers who molested children while their wives were either not at home or elsewhere in the house.

One of the most troubling aspects of day care abuse is that it tends to be more severe than sex abuse in other contexts and more often involves physical injury. Some abusers in day care are pedophiles who are motivated by a desire for sexual gratification. Others are sadistic individuals who enjoy hurting children and may engage in physical as well as sexual abuse. At its worst, sex abuse in day care may involve ritual abuse or the use of children in pornography.

Warning Signs

Parents with children in day care should be alert to these possible indicators of abuse:

  • Bedwetting, fear of going to bed, nightmares and other sleep disturbances.
  • Behavioral changes and mood swings.
  • Changes in toilet training habits.
  • Sudden aggressive or rebellious behavior.
  • Sexual acting-out or an unusual interest in sexual matters.
  • Clinging or regressive infantile behavior.
  • Fear of certain people, places or activities.
  • Excessive fear of returning to the day care setting.


Parents may be slow to recognize these signals of abuse. They may deny them or attribute them to other causes. For example, a mother who sees persistent redness and irritation in her daughter’s vaginal area may think it’s a hygiene problem. Or, when a child becomes very frightened or reluctant to go to day care, the parent may interpret it as separation anxiety.

Sex abuse in day care victimizes both the parent and the child. Parents may feel terribly guilty at having entrusted the care of their child to abusive strangers. Children may experience long-term trauma. Parent and child victims will need therapeutic intervention and time to heal. With a great deal of emotional support, each of them may succeed in dealing with the after-effects of sexual abuse.

Choosing a Day Care Center

Parents who choose unlicensed family day care settings for their child should be aware that these entities lack formal requirements for screening and training of staff. In licensed day care centers and preschools, parents should make sure that all staff members who come in contact with their children are screened for criminal records, substance abuse and a history of emotional instability.

If your child has been sexually abused in a day care center, contact the attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.