1 year old Juan Carlos Cardenas drowned Feb. 22nd in a baptismal (image courtesy Cardenas family via IndyStar.com)
Indianapolis, IN (written by Kristine Guerra/Indianapolis Star) -- The parents of the 1-year-old boy who died earlier this year after drowning in a baptismal pool at a day-care ministry have filed a claim against a state agency, saying its negligence led to the wrongful death of their son.
The tort claim comes four months after Juan Cardenas and Maricela Serna filed a civil lawsuit against the day-care ministry, Praise Fellowship Assembly of God, and its umbrella organization, Indiana District Assemblies of God.
Juan Carlos Cardenas drowned Feb. 22 while he was at the day-care ministry. He apparently was eating lunch with several other children inside a playroom when he walked out without anyone noticing. Employees later found him floating face down in the pool.
The boy was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The lawsuit, which his parents filed April 9, states that Carlos "was allowed to wander off by himself, resulting in him falling into an unguarded pool of water." Their lawyer, Stephen Wagner, said they have reached a settlement with Praise Fellowship but declined to give further details citing confidentiality issues.
The attention now is on the government agency that inspects licensed and faith-based or unlicensed facilities. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration could find itself in a lawsuit unless it responds to the tort claim.
In a letter that Wagner sent to several state agency staff, he said the Family and Social Services Administration "negligently inspected the Praise Fellowship Assembly of God Church day-care facility before and after the Feb. 22, 2012 drowning."
A November 2011 agency inspection showed that Praise Fellowship had violated 18 health, safety and sanitation standards. As a consequence, the agency issued citations.
"The bottom line is the state of Indiana was sanctioning this unlicensed day care. They have the authority to inspect the premises," Wagner said. "If they had done a good job of inspecting the day care, they would've shut it down sooner."
That did not happen until March 6, nearly two weeks after Carlos died.
Praise Fellowship closed voluntarily after the agency pulled out of a voucher program, causing the day-care facility to lose clients and money.
Melanie Brizzi, child-care administrator for the state Bureau of Child Care under the Family and Social Services Administration, said the state is limited with what it can do with faith-based or unlicensed day-care centers. Licensed facilities that violate health and safety standards can be subject to emergency closure or probation. But Brizzi said the state does not have that power over ministries.
Carlos' death reignited a much-debated issue about the operation of day-care centers and the separation of church and state.
In Indiana, most faith-based day-care centers are registered, not licensed by the state. Thus, they are exempt from scores of rules and regulations that licensed facilities are required to follow.
Wagner contends Carlos' death could have been prevented if Praise Fellowship were a licensed facility. If that were the case, the baptismal pool would not have been part of the center.
However, religious organizations fear that more government regulation could curtail religious expression. Attempts to bridge the licensing disparity have failed in the state Legislature.