She was just a few months old, so she had only her cries and her body language to communicate her fear. It could easily have been dismissed with any number of excuses — maybe a precocious stage of separation anxiety. But her daddy knew it was something else.
“You could tell she didn’t want to be with her [caregiver],” he says now. “She clung to me. You could see the terror in her eyes. She was clawing and scraping, and I thought, that’s weird.”
But it didn’t make sense. The person who cared for his daughter while James Motz and his wife were at work was a family member. “She was good with her own kids,” James remembers, shaking his head as he still struggles to understand it all. “Her daughter, who is a little older than my daughter, was perfect — well-behaved, well-mannered, polite.”
But there was that one thing: The child had a hurt arm every once in awhile. James and his wife didn’t dwell on it. Kids grow up with bumps and bruises. It doesn’t always mean something sinister is going on.
Still, he couldn’t let go of a gnawing sense that something wasn’t right. “I told my wife I needed to put in cameras [at the caregiver's home],” he says. He had every right to do that. James, then a wildly successful 24-year-old business owner, had bought the house in which the caregiver and her family were living. It was just a few blocks away from his own west Valley home.
The decision was supposed to be a win-win, a way to provide safe and loving care for his daughter while James and his wife went back to work. He was trying to be a good guy, finding his own solution by helping some relatives who were down on their luck. He’d given them a place to live, given them both jobs.
But cameras? Basically spying on someone you have every reason to trust? James and his wife argued about it. How do you weigh vague suspicions about your daughter’s safety against the privacy rights of a family member you’ve entrusted with her care?
Before the decision could be made, before the plan could be implemented, Lily was in the hospital, a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Her parents were faced with the prospect of raising a child who could have permanent brain damage.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child advocates around the state are commemorating it by launching a new awareness campaign to help parents choose safe caregivers.
“Who Do You Trust With Your Child?” is a joint effort involving the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the Arizona Coordinated Prevention Campaign, Childhelp, Southwest Human Development, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Prevent Child Abuse, among others.
A dedicated website at childhelp.org/mychild directs parents to resources. A hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is operated by trained staff who can answer questions about safe caregivers.
If you could talk with James Motz, if you could see how this experience haunts him still, you would realize how important it is to trust that primal, instinctual sense of danger we all have deep inside us. You wouldn’t hesitate to consult these resources if you had even the slightest sense that something was wrong in a childcare environment.
“I’d never had kids,” says James, who is now a stay-at-home dad to Lily and her younger brother. “I didn’t know if I was just crazy and overprotective.”
His advice to other parents? “Trust your instincts, 100 percent. If something is off, it’s off.”