Enterprise day care shut down by state following allegations of abuse
By Tim Unruh, Salina Journal, June 25, 2010

ENTERPRISE -- Putting sand, hot sauce and vile-tasting substances in the mouths of children to punish them were among the allegations against child care owner Kim Riffel in the state's emergency suspension order issued Wednesday.

The order closed down her Munchkin Manor Day Care Home in Enterprise. One woman whose son went to Munchkin Manor, called Riffel a "loving day care provider."

In a prepared statement read over the phone, Riffel, 48, said she was "solely cooperating with investigators in this matter" but wouldn't comment on the allegations.

Riffel said Thursday she was "putting together" a gathering of the parents of "current and past" clients, and might be able to provide more comment later.

"Secondly, I have always put the health, happiness and safety of the children in my care first and foremost," she said. "In closing, this is the first time in 29 years of my family child care that any complaints have ever been filed."

The KDHE received complaint information about the day care from the Dickinson County Health Department, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Enterprise Police Department.

Police Chief Tom Burns said the day care, at the intersection of Moon and 2150 roads, two miles east of Enterprise, is out of his jurisdiction, and therefore not his case. But he did interview two of Riffel's child clients, and faxed a narrative to SRS and KDHE.

"I won't be filing any charges or arresting anyone. Anything like that will have to be done by the Dickinson County Sheriff's Office," Burns said.

Sheriff Gareth Hoffman could not be reached.

The KDHE reported that Riffel "admitted that she does have children put sand in their mouths as a form of punishment."

Sand in the mouth

Children told the state that Riffel would use a plastic spoon to place sand or rocks in a child's mouth, occasionally forcing it into the mouth.

Youngsters also told the state that Riffel "puts hot sauce and baking soda in their mouths when they say bad words." Still others said Riffel "uses soap to wash their mouths out."

Riffel admitted, according to the order, to spanking children in the past, while children reported being spanked with a fly swatter.

The KDHE order reads that Riffel exceeded the capacity of her day care when she had 11 children in her care -- one infant, six children 18 months to kindergarten age and four children from kindergarten age to school age.

KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby authorized the suspension order "to protect any child in the home from physical or mental abuse, abandonment, or any other substantial threat to health or safety," the order reads.

A loving provider

Leesa Hettenbach, of Chapman, whose son, now 11, was a regular visitor to Munchkin Manor for seven years, supported Riffel's service.

"Kim has always been a very nurturing and loving day care provider," Hettenbach said. "I know the comments that have been made. My child was not involved with those disciplinary actions that I'm aware of."

Regarding the descriptions of Riffel's actions in the suspension order, Hettenbach said Riffel "tries to prevent children from continuing negative behavior."

Speaking only from her experience at the day care and that of her child, Hettenbach said Riffel has "always been very caring."

The order reads that Riffel is required to notify parents and guardians of children in her care of her license suspension.

She has 15 days from Wednesday to submit a written request for a hearing on the case.

Riffel did not say whether she intended to request a hearing.

n KWCH Channel 12 News reporter Melody Pettit contributed to this story.
n Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 822-1419 or by e-mail at tunruh@salina.com.


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