State investigating report of young kids found on Route 202
PETERBOROUGH — The state’s child care licensing agency is investigating an incident in which two young children under the care of Monadnock Community Early Learning Center were found on Route 202 in Peterborough by a passing motorist.
According to Angela Hutchinson of Peterborough, she saw two children — one of whom she said may have been as young as 14 months — on Route 202 around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The younger of the two, she said, was in the middle of the highway while the older child appeared to be trying to coax the boy back to the shoulder.
A police report lists both children as age 3 , but officials at the Learning Center would not confirm the ages of the children involved.
Neither child was injured, and the incident was voluntarily reported to the state by Learning Center, which has programs that serve infants through second graders.
In an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Friday, Hutchinson said she was driving her GMC Envoy, with her four children, toward Jaffrey when she came upon the surprising scene. As she headed up the hill near the town line, where the southbound lane widens for a passing zone, she got her first glimpse of the two young children.
“I saw two kids, one standing right in the middle of the road and the other on the left side, in the breakdown lane,” Hutchinson said. “The one in the road looked like he was about 14 or 15 months, maybe a new walker. The bigger one on the side looked like he was trying to get the other one to come back out of the road.”
Hutchinson said she pulled over into the right side of the road as far as she could, parked her vehicle and put on the flashers. The southbound traffic doesn’t have a breakdown lane at that location; there’s a guardrail quite close to the edge of the right lane.
Hutchinson got out carefully, and quietly approached the child in the road, who let her pick him up and carry him to the shoulder. She then took the other child by the hand and led him off the road.
Meanwhile, another driver had stopped, Hutchinson said, and she asked that woman to move Hutchinson’s Envoy.
“She took it up the hill, turned around and came back to where she could park in the breakdown lane,” Hutchinson said. “I didn’t want my car in the middle of the street, but I didn’t want to leave that baby there either.”
The only place the two children could have come from, Hutchinson said, was the nearby Learning Center, which is located on Community Lane about 50 yards off Route 202. While still carrying the smaller boy, she started walking down the side of the road in that direction, holding the hand of the other boy. At one point, the boy tugged on her hand and led her down a path through the woods between the state highway and the back of the childcare center’s playground.
“They must have come up that way from the playground,” Hutchinson said.
When they came to the playground fence, Hutchinson said, she got the attention of a couple of adults working at the center.
“I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got kids standing out in the middle of the street,’” Hutchinson said. “They came over, and lifted up the bottom of the fence, and took them back in.”
Hutchinson said the workers didn’t thank her and didn’t appear overly concerned. She said she went back to her car and immediately called Peterborough police.
“I felt an officer should follow up,” she said.
Peterborough Lt. Ernie Belletete, who handled the call, said Friday that he went to the Monadnock Community Early Learning Center building and spoke to staffers. Belletete said he was told the two children were both three years old. He looked at the playground and said part of the fence supports had come loose, making it possible for children to crawl under.
Belletete said staff members reported that the children had made it up to the side of the highway, but were not in the road. He said Learning Center staff had temporarily fixed the fence and were planning to do a complete repair the next day.
Debra Vaughan, executive director of the Monadnock Community Early Learning Center, said the center immediately reported the incident to the N.H. Child Care Licensing Unit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“I can tell you we followed proper protocol,” Vaughan said by phone Friday. “We did an immediate count of the children. The parents of the two children were notified, and we have notified our board members. We reported it to licensing. We have been fully cooperating with them.”
Terri Peck, a licensing supervisor with the Child Care Licensing Unit, said an investigation started immediately after the center reported the incident.
“Something like this is on the top of our radar,” Peck said. “We will look at the road, the fence. We’ll look at staffing and the level of supervision.”
Peck said she could not predict how soon the investigation would be complete.
According to Child Care Licensing records, an unannounced relicensing visit was held at the Monadnock Community Early Learning Center on June 13 and no violations of critical rules were found.
At an unannounced visit on Feb. 24, 2011, two noncritical violations were found. A statement of findings from the department’s previous visit had not been posted in a prominent location as required and injury reports had not been filed separately as required.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.