Child care director leaves after 'rough play'

El Carmelo Kids' Club cited by state for two child-safety concerns

Palo Alto's largest child care agency, Palo Alto Community Child Care, has received two violation citations after a state agency found the director of one of its centers had endangered the safety of children, according to investigation reports by the California Department of Social Services.

The department's Community Care Licensing Division issued the citations on March 9 for actions at El Carmelo Kids' Club, a facility operated by PACCC. An investigator substantiated two complaints that El Carmelo's then-director, David Higareda, had violated children's safety by allegedly putting at least one child in a head lock and dropping another on his head in the playground during "rough play," according to reports.

PACCC, which runs 20 infant and child care facilities, self-reported the incidents to the licensing board after a parent complained of the rough treatment of two of her children, which occurred on Dec. 16, 2015, and Feb. 18, 2016.

An investigator visited El Carmelo Kids' Club, located at 3024 Bryant St. on the El Carmelo Elementary School campus, on March 1 and then cited it for a "Type B -- Personal rights," violation for the December incident in which the child was dropped onto his head, and a more serious "Type A -- Personal rights" violation for the February head lock.

"Type A" is the most serious violation, "in which there is an immediate risk to the health, safety or personal rights of those in care." Examples include lack of care or supervision, access to open bodies of water, lack of a fire clearance for the building and access to dangerous chemicals. Citations for these violations are always issued even if the violation is corrected on the spot, the department noted on its website.

A "Type B" violation is one that, if not corrected, "may become an immediate risk to the health, safety or personal rights of clients." Examples include faulty medical record keeping and lack of adequate staff training, according to the department.

PACCC "removed and trained" Higareda after the second incident before the state investigation began, the state report noted.

But Angela Dillingham, the mother of the two children, claims that PACCC has soft-pedaled the incidents. A letter the nonprofit sent to parents characterized the head-locking incident as a misinterpretation by the child rather than a violation of the child's personal rights and safety.

The March 11 letter to parents, from Kristiane Turner, PACCC school-age program coordinator, states that during an altercation between children on the playground, Higareda "went to one of the children, putting his arm around the child so that he could quietly talk in the child's ear without being overheard by the others. The child was uncomfortable with this, indicating that he was put into a 'head lock.'"

The state investigator's report, however, found that Higareda had in fact head-locked "children."

"After interviewing children, analyst learned that one staff person played rough and head locked the children. Analyst also learned that the staff person played games with children that was (sic) not safe for children," the investigator's report noted.

A Department of Social Services spokesman could not specify the number of children the analyst referenced in the report.

Dillingham pulled her children out of El Carmelo Kids' Club after reading Turner's description of the events. She said she had patronized the after-school program for 11 years, and all three of her children had been enrolled at El Carmelo Kids' Club.

She criticized PACCC leadership with failing to fully investigate the situation by relying on interviews with teachers who worked under Higareda in coming to their conclusions.

"The licensing board is not going to give a center a Type A violation for a director whispering in a child's ear with his arm around them," she said.

Dillingham said she had no problems with the after-school care her children received until the encounters with Higareda.

She also disputed Turner's characterization of the December incident as a game of tag in which Higareda was picking up and twirling the children around. Turner wrote that he had lost his footing and fell to the ground with the 10-year-old boy, who hit his head on the "soft playground surface."

The licensing board report based on PACCC's self-reporting stated that there were no injuries. But PACCC was cited for a "Type B" violation because staff had picked up children and twirled them around, "which is not a safe practice," a later facility evaluation report found.

Then there is the question of whether Higareda should have had a medical professional examine the boy. Medical professionals say that a blow to the head won't necessarily cause trauma to the brain.

Bernard Dannenberg, M.D., director of the pediatric emergency department at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford Health Care, said that it depends on the blow.

"Regardless, caretakers or bystanders should always consider the circumstances and symptoms. If a child hits their head, here are some potential trouble signs: loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizures, serious lacerations, scalp swelling, or unusual behavior. If these symptoms are present, then seeing a doctor right away is recommended."

But Dillingham would not have known to watch her son for signs of brain trauma if the boy hadn't told her about the fall. Higareda did not notify her, she said.

Janice Shaul, PACCC executive director, said in an emailed statement: "While our staff diligently works to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring, we also notify a parent of any accident or injury that occurs. We comply with our legal obligation to report all incidents for which a report is required including injuries that require medical attention. This allows for an investigation by a third party and allows a discussion of ways to improve."

Higareda, who worked at El Carmelo Kids' Club (ECKC) for eight years and was its director since the latter part of 2014, could not be reached for comment. But in a letter to parents, he apologized for his actions.

"As your confidence (in me) grew, so did my comfort level with the children. And I made a mistake. In being so comfortable, I made the mistake of taking my silliness and horse play and I made a child feel uncomfortable and unsafe at ECKC. I take full responsibility for this and I apologize sincerely. This was not intentional, but because of this incident I felt that I could no longer act as the face of ECKC. So, it is with the best interest of you and the children that I leave ECKC immediately."

Shaul said that confidentiality prevents PACCC from commenting on a specific child, family or employee. She said that PACCC encourages parents to discuss any concerns with administrators so that the organization "can investigate, consider the facts from differing viewpoints, and take the action PACCC determines to be appropriate, with a focus on the safety of all children."

Shaul said that PACCC offers support, coaching and reminders to staff members.

"An individual parent may not always agree with PACCC's determination as to appropriate action, but PACCC's focus is -- and always will be -- the best interests of the children in our care."

El Carmelo Kids Club was cited by the licensing board for additional violations between 2011 and 2016. In 2014, a teacher allowed a 6-year-old child to self-administer Benadryl; a child with a nut allergy was exposed to ingredients manufactured in a nut-processing facility; a 6-year-old child left the facility and crossed the street; and a child who had supposedly been signed out was later found asleep in a classroom loft by the janitor after the school had closed.

But El Carmelo is not the only child care facility to have received citations. Many others have minor citations ranging from dirty carpets or a hole in a sofa to more serious issues of untrained or unmindful staff and incidents. Information about citations for individual child care facilities can be found in the state database at


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


37 people like this
Posted by Not Surprised
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2016 at 9:31 am

Not Surprised is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

What's up with the hiring practices of this place???

Supposedly anyone who works with children is supposed to be thoroughly screened and investigated!

24 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm

PACCC is very disconnected from all their centers and has no idea what goes on inside them.
All this organization cares about is money. Anyone who places their children in these centers
needs to be very cautious and on high alert. [Portion removed.] People need to stop and think what if it was your child?

34 people like this
Posted by Superman
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 29, 2016 at 7:48 pm

I'd love to read the other part of the story that the writer didn't speak about. A childcare worker who has worked their way up in an eight year span can't be trusted all of a sudden because of two accidents. Not to mention the questioning of the morality of his coworkers. Being a human and knowing accidents happen this article is an example of how there is no such thing as an impartial writer.

1 person likes this
Posted by Danielle
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2016 at 8:41 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

38 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2016 at 9:11 am

I really see nothing alarming about what happened here and think it was blown out of proportion. I wonder if some of the family's ire came about by how the center handled the complaints.

On the other hand, I find these incidents, mentioned only in passing at the end of the lengthy article, with no accountability for who/what/why, very alarming. They are all just lucky no one was seriously hurt or worse: "achild with a nut allergy was exposed to ingredients manufactured in a nut-processing facility; a 6-year-old child left the facility and crossed the street; and a child who had supposedly been signed out was later found asleep in a classroom loft by the janitor after the school had closed."

That last incident is the most concerning. Why a long article about what seems like a mountain out of a molehill that cost a person his job, and nothing about some really alarming incidents?

30 people like this
Posted by Smith
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2016 at 9:41 am

I don't think anyone argues that every child deserves to be safe, feel safe, and be respected by adults left in charge of their care and parents have the responsibility to make sure this happens. This is an unfortunate incident. I don't know or do I want to know the details of it. That is between the parties involved.
What this article is not about is that paccc centers offer some of the best and highest quality of care that there is. I challenge the writer of this article to visit all the paccc centers and observe the teachers & supervisors do their jobs. Watch the children interact with their teachers. Watch the teachers interact with the children. Interview PACCC parents. Ask them about their experience with paccc. Then write an article about paccc. My kids attended paccc centers through various stages of their lives infancy, preschool and after school clubs, so that I could work. I have also tried other childcare options outside of paccc No comparison. paccc should take pride in the work that they do.

18 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2016 at 11:06 am

To all of those who want to hang PACCC and all other organization out to dry when there is an incident: You are welcome and encouraged to start your own child care facility, school, pre-school, camp, teen program, etc. and run it for 20 years. If after 20 years you never, ever have any type of incident you are then welcome to make complaints about others.


18 people like this
Posted by Scandal-prone
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2016 at 11:45 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

9 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm

I entered this discussion because I thought the criticism of the resigning employee was overblown, but I do take issue with your nonsensical post. Are you saying that complaints about incidents are invalid because of PACCCs age as an institution? No matter how old, an organization caring for children should have procedures in place to avoid problems, because those involve child safety, and to learn from problems when they do occur. Being defensive rather than learning from mistakes bodes ill for an organization.

There are high risk fields in which accidents rarely happen, because the organizations are designed that way. A whole field of study exists for what kinds of characteristics of organizations result in error free operations in high risk high stress environments. Certainly, some of those principles might be wirth applying to our kids. For example, an organization that is highly hierarchical and that doesn't allow open information or communication, or people on the lower rungs the authority and power to just do what is necessary to solve problems they come up against is the opposite of an effective one, yet that is what we have in spades in our school district. I don't know about PACCC, the one facility I know more of has always been well run. But
I hope your attitude is not shared by the employees.

15 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 30, 2016 at 1:28 pm

This article is about some serious issues. School age children are not allowed to be handled at all by PACCC workers. [Portion removed.] I am sure there are some PACCC centers that are great, but this article is about this location and serious incidents that happened to these children and the way PACCC's office has chosen to handle it. Just because your child has not been affected does not change what has happened to these children. As a parent how could one even have anything but compassion for another child who was hurt in child care. As a parent I would never put my child in a facility with so many violations and make excuses for the organization and their actions. There are many other child care facilities in the area with out any complaints such as this location.

18 people like this
Posted by MOM
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Thanks to the mom for speaking up. The multiple issues at this kids club are concerning - that second to last paragraph lists some serious issues. While I've had a great experience at one kids club, I think PACCC must do more to address its varying levels of staff performance across its sites. PACCC, please be more visible on how you're improving.

6 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2016 at 4:39 pm

@Questions I am not saying that PACCC is above being questioned about how they run their business. It seems that the tendency is whenever an incident happens to immediately claim the organization (PACCC, PAUSD, YMCA) is totally incompetent and all the public always knows better how to run someone else's business.

No matter how many background checks you do. No matter how much training, procedures, rules that you put into place, incidents happen.


13 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 30, 2016 at 4:50 pm

@ Marc this might be true in other cases when people tend to blame large organizations, but just to let you know in this case despite the serious violations and children being hurt and upset parents this man is still employed with PACCC and will be running their summer camps. [Portion removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Heather
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm

[Portion removed.] The two the main incidents described are not minor in any circumstance and thank goodness when these children were wrongfully handled they didn't sustain permenant injuries. However, these are only two situations that have been made public and makes me wonder how many other children are being hurt my PACCC employees and the director. [Portion removed.] Children are the worlds best blessing and should be taken care of and treasured not physically hurt, emotionally hurt, left alone in a facility or directed to take medications on their own. PACCC really needs to apologize to all these parents, children, take accountability for their poor skills in hiring and start valuing these wonderful children that they have the honor of "taking care of" while their parents are at work. I would like to apologize to the children and parents that have had to deal with such a horrible thing.

17 people like this
Posted by Downtown Parent
a resident of Professorville
on May 2, 2016 at 10:57 am

Downtown Parent is a registered user.

I became immediately suspicious when I read those were two kids from the same family. [Portion removed.] I really would like to hear from the other side of the story.

14 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on May 2, 2016 at 11:27 am

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Prior to publication of this story I met with PACCC officials and also invited them to respond to a series of questions related to the allegations in the story. I also attempted to contact Mr. Higareda for his version of events. He did not respond.

PACCC's provided statement, comments from which are in the story, did not refute the state licensing board's factual findings nor the parent's allegations in any substantive way.

16 people like this
Posted by ECKC Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2016 at 9:44 am

ECKC Mom is a registered user.

My child is at ECKC, and I have had nothing but positive experiences with the center. In my experience, the staff have been caring and responsive, the center clean, well-lit and with lots of activities designed to appeal to children and stimulate them. So much so that my son always makes me wait when I pick him up - he is having so much fun there.

David was a great male role model (unfortunately I personally haven't seen too many men in childcare) and in my experience always looked out for the little kids - firm, yet kind, very receptive to feedback on the one occasion I had a small complaint about my son missing out on snack, always greeting us. My family and I miss him, and I know that other families I have spoken to miss him too. So much so that a bunch of parents signed a petition to bring David back - See Web Link

It is not my intent to trivialize the mom's complaints - misdemeanours have happened, a child felt threatened and a rap on the knuckles should have been given, but I feel the reaction is completely out of proportion to the incidents. [Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by El Carmelo Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2016 at 10:37 am

El Carmelo Parent is a registered user.

We have had a great experience at ECKC. The center was well run and the all the teachers worked hard to make it a great experience for the kids. [Portion removed.]

17 people like this
Posted by ECKC parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2016 at 11:52 am

ECKC parent is a registered user.

The situation is not as cut and dried as this article makes it seem to be. In fact parents and children at ECKC adore David and there is no other parent who has stood up against David in this matter other than the one who has filed the complaints and gone to the press.

While the other parents do not want to trivialize the complainant's stand on protecting their child from unsafe behavior, we also do not want to undermine the stand of all the other parents who are in support of David. A link to the petition signed by about 50 parents (of kids who go to ECKC) in support of David being a good director and role-model is here: Web Link.

The parents who are in support of David do so because of their years of positive engagement with David and with the center. They have also done due diligence in terms of talking to the licensing board and police department about the matter. The licensing board's citation on 03/09/2016 after they inspected the center and interviewed other teachers about the incident says the following -- "The facility was cited for Violation of Personal Rights type A deficiency". Link to citations against ECKC here: Web Link

While the above behavior from a teacher making a child feel threatened is definitely incorrect and should be fixed, it should be taken as a learning opportunity for all instead of it to becoming one parent's personal battle which benefits nobody and penalizes the entire community, most importantly the children at ECKC who have lost a good teacher, care-giver and friend.

2 people like this
Posted by Bay Area mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Bay Area mom is a registered user.

His non response says nothing. I'm sure the agency has informed him and all staff to remain quiet for their own safety! And @lisa dos u work for paccc? How do you know they have a no handling clause because if so that means they can not even hug a crying child or high five them or do anything nurturing and that isn't practical. I worked in Early child hood education for many years and played with children Daily with contact. THEY DID SELF REPORT I know of many centers who knowingly break liscensing regulations and do NOT report due to the violations they know will happen. david did make a mistake by not calling the family when there was a head injury but that is minor to these accusations. Most centers are trained to call a parent whose child has hr anything from the neck up. So yes he did make an error and to be honest I don't feel choking was involved but none of us were there and we are going solely off of a game of telephone here. I'm sorry this happened to the children but I admire David's honesty and respect him for owing up to his mistakes as minor or major as they may be. Good luck to paccc and David dealing with this situation as a whole.

5 people like this
Posted by Mommy ❤️
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Mommy ❤️ is a registered user.

To Bay Area mom there is a state law that prohibits people working with school aged children to pick them up. You can find out more information by contacting California licensing board and I believe this was one of the violations the center recieved due to David picking up children [portion removed.] I called licensing myself last week and over the phone they can give you many details to the innocents that happened. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Bay Area mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Bay Area mom is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] This is unfortunate for all parties involved. But to loose a male role model which David is over something that can be corrected it devasting to the community and children. People are human and do make mistakes. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Bay Area mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Bay Area mom is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Mommy ❤️
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Mommy ❤️ is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

First Sunnyvale, then Australia: Mountain View's Le Plonc plots expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 2 comments | 2,405 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 33 comments | 1,866 views

Premarital and Couples: Living as Roommates?
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,371 views

All those things our city does – and doesn’t -- do
By Diana Diamond | 5 comments | 560 views

A trial run
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 511 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.