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Yvonne Abraham

A tragic case of almost-never

When you’re a working parent, you get good at batting away the awful thoughts. Kissing your crying toddler good-bye, leaving him with people you’ve done your best to check out, you can’t help thinking about what might go wrong.

What if they don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t really love children? What if there’s an accident? What if he bolts from the rope line on a busy street? What if they lose him at the playground?

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You push it all down, tell yourself to stop being crazy. These things happen almost never.

So many almost-nevers conspired to take Daylan Walker’s life on Wednesday.

Somehow, the toddler slipped out of his caregiver’s apartment. When she ran out to find him, she went outside, rather than turning toward the stairs where she would have found him. Somehow, he managed to speed up four flights without anybody seeing him, or stopping him. He found the door at the top of those stairs, a door that just happened to have a broken lock. Somehow, this tiny boy pushed that door open, or found it already ajar.

That improbable chain of events led Daylan to the roof from which he plunged to his death.

His parents did everything right, it seems. His mother, Leonela Rivera, had just started working at a chiropractor’s office and, after she was told she couldn’t bring her only child to work anymore, enrolled him at the family day-care center on Columbia Road on May 20.

Daylan’s parents placed him with Marisol Rondon-Ramos because people they knew said she was a good caregiver. Recommendations are gold when it comes to choosing child care. And she charged a reasonable $28.75 a day.

Finding good care is like winning the lottery. There are about 450,000 children age 5 and under in this state, and only 220,000 day-care and early-education slots. It’s tough for middle-class parents to find reliable care that doesn’t spell financial ruin. It’s even tougher for parents on low incomes. There are roughly 5,000 infants, 8,000 toddlers, and 11,000 preschoolers awaiting vouchers to help pay for care. Not everybody can afford to choose and vet the best caregivers.

But Daylan’s family negotiated this treacherous thicket. They found someone they had every reason to trust.

Rondon-Ramos deserved her great reputation, says Shanell Brown, a social worker who entrusted her autistic son, now 6, to Rondon-Ramos for several years, starting when he was an infant.

“She was excellent,” says Brown, who visited several providers before settling on the one in the apartment on Columbia Road.

“She is patient and kind,” Brown said. “She treated the children as if they were hers. Anytime I knew someone who needed day-care, I would always recommend her.”

Rondon-Ramos helped transition Brown’s boy from formula to milk, introduced foods he refused to eat at home, and taught Brown how better to relate to him. She knew Brown worried when he was fussy at drop-off, so she texted pictures of the boy playing happily.

“She understands it’s hard for parents to leave their kids and tries to ease your mind,” Brown says. It was “as if I was dropping him off to his own grandmother.”

Rondon-Ramos’s record isn’t perfect. She has been cited in the past for having one too many children in her care, exceeding the six she was licensed for, but she was not over capacity on Wednesday. After several citations for putting infants to sleep improperly — for example, letting them nap in their bouncy chairs, if that is where they nodded off — she was told in November she could no longer care for babies.

But there was no indication she shouldn’t be allowed to care for older children. In a way, it would be easier to make sense of Daylan’s death if there was. It would be so much simpler to dismiss Rondon-Ramos as an incompetent caregiver, a rogue operator whose transgressions the state missed or let slide. Because the alternative is that Daylan’s parents were right to trust Rondon-Ramos, and their baby died anyway, victim of a chain of unlikely events rather than negligence.

As a parent, you want to believe that, if you control for everything, your child will be safe. But Daylan’s death mocks that useful fiction.

No one can control for the almost-nevers.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com
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