Day care where child suffocated was target of investigations

Wasilla facility passed 8 tests in a 3-year period, but August audit led to ongoing probe.

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 11, 2012 

A Wasilla child care facility where a toddler apparently suffocated while playing on a piece of playground equipment Thursday had been fined by the state in the past for "issues related to supervision," and had another state investigation pending at the time of the incident, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

The state has temporarily suspended the license of the child care facility while it investigates.

The 19-month-old girl, Faith Phillips, was playing at Illuminations Child Care and Educational Center on South Knik-Goose Bay Road on Thursday when she was found unconscious in an outdoor yard by a staff member, said Wasilla Police Department officer Rick Manrique.

Staff started CPR immediately and called 911 at 11:04 a.m., Manrique said.

Emergency responders took over CPR and then transported the girl to Mat-Su Regional Hospital. She was then flown to an Anchorage hospital, Manrique said. Sunday, she was taken off life support after doctors confirmed brain death.

Wasilla police are also investigating exactly what happened, but Manrique said it appears Phillips may have succumbed to what experts call "positional asphyxia," which can render a person unconscious in seconds.

It appears that the toddler put her head through a small cutout shape in a playground toy made to look like a castle, he said.

"It was just the right dimension for her to put her head through," Manrique said.

The girl was found in the standing position, he said.

She had been playing in a yard with about 20 other children about the same age, Manrique said. Four or five staff members were present, he said. That would put the facility within the legal supervision ratio of six children between ages 19 months and 36 months per adult supervisor. The state requires that licensed child care facilities have one person trained in pediatric CPR on hand at all times.

Illuminations Child Care has been licensed by the Department of Health and Social Services since November 2008, according to deputy commissioner Ree Sailors.

The business is registered to Illuminations, LLC, which lists Brenda Fuller of Wasilla as the sole owner

Fuller did not respond to attempts to reach her at her home and business Tuesday.

Child care facilities are inspected two to three times a year in announced and unannounced visits, Sailors said.

Illuminations Child Care was inspected eight times between 2008 and 2011 without receiving any sanctions, she said.

In June 2011, the center was fined for "something directly related to issues of supervision," as the result of an inspection, Sailors said. She declined to say what specific issue led to the fine or the amount of the fine, but she said the center was required to submit a plan of correction.

In August of this year, the department made an unannounced visit to Illuminations that resulted in a state investigation, Sailors said. She would not say what prompted that investigation because it is ongoing. Investigations typically take at least 30 days, she said.

The issues were not so serious that the state felt a closure was warranted, she said.

"We did not see any immediate danger to the health and safety of the children."

Illuminations will remain closed while the state investigates Phillips' death.

"We are really, deeply sympathetic to the family," Sailors said. "This is a horrific thing."


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

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