Owings Mills day care closure amid abuse allegations sends families, employees scrambling for alternatives

Published on: August 22, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

The exterior of Lil Kids Kastle daycare Center in Owings Mills.

When prospective parents come to Busy Bees Early Learning day care in Owings Mills, owner Brandice Bradley is prepared for the typical questions.

What is your curriculum? Certifications? Pricing?

But one father recently came into her day care with a totally different line of questioning.

Do men work here? Are there cameras in the day care? Who is left alone with the children?

His family was one of dozens whose children were enrolled at neighboring Lil Kidz Kastle day care, which abruptly shut down several weeks ago after child abuse allegations against the owner’s husband came to light.

The day care closure has left former families and employees scrambling to find new child care and employment while also coming to terms with the allegations themselves.

“You can see that these people have been through trauma,” Bradley said.

Those abuse accusations allegedly prompted Lil Kidz Kastle owner Shanteari Weems to shoot her husband, James Weems Jr., at a hotel in Washington, D.C., last month. Shanteari Weems has been charged with assault with intent to kill and firearms charges. James Weems has been charged with sexual offenses relating to three victims and has a preliminary hearing next week in Baltimore County District Court.

According to a June inspection report from the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood, 78 children were enrolled at Lil Kidz Kastle. Bradley said that she has already enrolled more than 10 children from that day care, adding that she has had to turn many families away over not having enough space for infants or before- and after-school care.

When one parent, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the legal cases, went to pick up her 3-year-old daughter from Lil Kidz Kastle on July 20, she saw two women whom she didn’t recognize standing out front.

They asked for her child’s name, and handed her a letter. The day care had been immediately suspended, but she had no idea why.

“Honestly, I don’t really cry, but I cried,” she said.

First, she thought about her job. She’d have to use her remaining sick time. Still, she took off work immediately, and wouldn’t return until a week and a half later, touring about four day cares a day.

Some were already full. Others cost too much, didn’t accept vouchers for subsidized child care, or wouldn’t enroll a child who wasn’t yet potty trained.

Many of the day cares asked where her daughter had come from. In one instance, after she told them Lil Kidz Kastle, she felt judged.

“I felt as though they didn’t want my child there,” she said.

Though she has found new child care, the process came at a financial and personal cost. When Lil Kidz Kastle closed, she said she wasn’t allowed to collect her daughter’s belongings from inside — like sheets for naptime, changes of clothes and sippy cups. She had to repurchase many of those things, which are required for her child’s enrollment at the new day care. She also lost a portion of the Lil Kidz Kastle summer camp fee.

To tour day cares, she had to take off work and use her remaining sick days. Now, between the additional purchases and being a single parent, she has to work no matter what.

“When I don’t have child care, I don’t have a job,” she said.

She also said the transition was tough on her daughter, who loved Lil Kidz Kastle. She’d been attending the day care since she was 6 months old.

Her daughter is still adjusting to the new day care and is confused by the disruption to her daily life.

“Every child is so used to a routine,” she said. “Kids are like computers — they program everything that goes on.”

The closure of Lil Kidz affected employees, too. One employee, who requested anonymity due to the abuse allegations, said she didn’t receive any notice of the day care’s closure.

Prior to the closure, she’d seen women in suits with briefcases at the day care earlier in the week. She assumed they were licensing specialists from the state who regularly come for inspections. But on that same morning, she said, the white van James Weems drove to take children to and from school wasn’t there. She didn’t put two and two together at the time.

When the day care was abruptly shut down days later, she said it came as a shock. She never spoke with the officials outside, and instead learned the news through co-workers just as parents were coming to pick up their children.

“You just go ahead and get your stuff because we’re not coming back here,” one told her.

“I think the state is shutting us down,” another said.

Suddenly, she lost her job and her family had no income.

She’d worked at Lil Kidz Kastle on and off for about five years and was planning to retire from the job in the next two years. Lil Kidz Kastle was blocks from her home, allowing her to easily go home and take care of her husband, who has stage-four cancer. She never thought she’d have to find a new job again, and said she was very attached to the kids.

Though she’s confident she will be able to secure a new position, she said the process itself is extremely stressful and she’s struggling to find a job that also allows her to also take care of her husband.

She was supposed to go on vacation the week following the day care’s closure, and would normally have received around $600 in vacation pay. Because the day care was shut down, she never received that money and now is $100 short on her rent.

Between jobs, she’s been able to pick up some work watching one of the children who attended Lil Kidz Kastle. She told his mother that she could pay what she could afford, but she couldn’t afford much.

“It’s sad,” she said. “That’s our second home, and it’s a wonderful, loving environment.”

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