A woman who operated a daycare out of her Far Northeast Philadelphia home is facing charges after authorities say she restrained babies and toddlers in car seats for hours at a time and did not feed them formula.
Edna Leighthardt, 54, was arrested Monday and charged with nine counts each of unlawful restraint and child endangerment. The felony charges represent each alleged victim whose parents came forward.
Police executed a search warrant of her home, on the 3800 of Kipling Place, in October and recovered surveillance footage from inside the house showing that some children in Leighthardt’s care were kept in car seats for more than nine hours a day, according to court documents.
Michael J. Diamondstein, Leighthardt’s attorney, told Metro that his client “denies the criminal allegations and looks forward to defending herself in a court of law.”
Leighthardt’s arrest was first reported by 6ABC.
Investigators became aware of the situation when several parents came forward to file reports of abuse and neglect in September, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by a PPD Special Victims Unit detective.
The recorded video, which covered a time of less than two months, showed that Leighthardt kept young children strapped into seats for feeding and sleeping, removing them only for diaper changes, according to the affidavit.
Keeping babies under the age of 2 strapped into car seats for extended periods of time can create a risk of strangulation or positional asphyxia, the detective wrote. Leighthardt was aware of that fact, telling one parent who confronted her via text, “I never let them sleep in the seat it can cutoff their airway,” the affidavit says.
Detectives interviewed an 8-year-old boy who spent time at the daycare, and he told police that Leighthardt often kept his younger sibling and other babies in a seat in a separate room.
Families said children sometimes came home hungry from Leighthardt’s house, and the footage showed that she allegedly did not give bottles to babies as young as 6 months old, according to court documents.
Instead, police claim she provided them only baby food and pouches, emptying the bottles of formula and sending them back home “dirtied” for the parents, the affidavit says.
The daycare was unlicensed, and Leighthardt frequently violated state ratio requirements, court documents allege, sometimes watching 10 or more children of various ages, parents reported. She allegedly insinuated to families that there were fewer children, staggering pick-up and drop-off times and meeting parents outside, according to the affidavit.
In addition, Leighthardt, the detective writes, told parents that they did not have to send any additional equipment or accessories for their children, as she was well stocked. However, during the search, officers noted only a high chair and a playpen, with no further supplies, the documents indicate. Authorities allege that Leighthardt only used a small part of her basement to run the daycare.
Most of the families who filed reports pulled their children out of her care in mid-September, according to the affidavit.
Following her arrest, Leighthardt was released on unsecured bond, and her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 16.