The Public Eye

Alleged abuse led to closure of Rosemont home day care

A suburban Sacramento day care operator abused children over the course of 26 years before state regulators took her license last month, according to the California Department of Social Services.

The department interviewed about 20 current and former day care children under the supervision of Sharon Jonas, who had run the service in her Rosemont home near Highway 50 and Bradshaw Road from 1978 through this year, though the investigation only confirmed abuse through 2004. Jonas estimated that she was responsible for 140 children throughout her time as a day care provider.

The department’s conclusions were affirmed by an administrative law judge after testimony from six former day care children, Jonas, parents and experts. The victims who testified were roughly 10 years old or younger when the alleged abuse happened but are now adults.

Jonas, 66, acknowledged to a state investigator some incidents of hitting children, but maintained she did not have a pattern of inflicting physical or emotional abuse. She declined to talk about the allegations when contacted by The Sacramento Bee, saying the “state got what they wanted, my license, and I just want to be done with it.” She did not ask any former day care children to testify in the administrative hearing, but some parents spoke on her behalf.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department received reports of alleged abuse at the day care in 2012 and 2014 but did not pursue criminal prosecution because the incidents had happened several years earlier and the statute of limitations had passed, said department spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull. The deadline for reporting child abuse depends on the type of abuse, he explained.

State records show that Jonas emotionally abused children, including making an example of them in front of other children when they soiled themselves. She banged their heads on the wall when sending them off for quiet time and routinely hit children with her hands or with objects, but never in a way that left bruises or other marks, former day care children said in testimony and interviews with state investigators.

Jonas had a quick temper and used fear to keep children from complaining to their parents, according to testimony from the former day care children. Some children complained to their parents or guardians but were not believed, records state. The Sacramento Bee obtained more than 100 pages of documents about the investigation and hearing from the Department of Social Services through a California Public Records Act request.

The alleged abuses occurred when the day care was under the oversight of Sacramento County. But they only came to light after the state had taken back licensing responsibilities from the the county in October 2013. The state handled Sacramento County’s home day care licensing because the county wanted to use its social workers for other child welfare responsibilities, according to Sacramento County spokeswoman Samantha Mott.

Five complaints of alleged abuse at the day care were made to the county’s Child Protective Services before the switch, and only one of the reports was confirmed – a 2000 complaint by a parent that Jonas was spanking children.

“The county left 50 to 75 children subject to this woman’s ... treatment,” said Bill Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, who reviewed the state’s investigative documents and spoke to The Bee. “I’m appalled and disgusted ... This is a woman who was entrusted with the care of children, and she subjected them to a long litany of abuses.”

I’m appalled and disgusted ... This is a woman who was entrusted with the care of children, and she subjected them to a long litany of abuses.

Bill Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, who reviewed the state’s investigative documents

The Bee asked Sacramento County officials to provide a written explanation of why they did not find the pattern revealed by the state. Mott provided a short reply essentially repeating the state’s summary of the outcome of the county cases and saying that a “determination was made that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the complaints in all but the 2000 complaint.”

Jonas’ son, Jason Jonas, told The Bee he never saw his mother hit or verbally abuse children during the 19 years he lived at home.

“Definitely she was a disciplinarian and maybe some of the kids didn’t like it,” said Jonas, 37, who added that his mother simply raised her voice or had children sit quietly when they acted up.

During the licensing hearing, former day care children testified about physical and emotional abuse at Jonas’ house from 1978 until 2004.

Allegations of abuse by Jonas after 2004 were also made, according to state documents. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has no cases involving Jonas except for the two past the statute of limitations, according to Turnbull.

The state Department of Social Services alleged that Jonas coached children under her care to make dishonest statements to county and state investigators. Administrative law judge Tiffany King agreed, pointing to a 2012 interview by a county investigator, in which a child, before any questions were asked, volunteered that “they don’t spank on kids here or hit kids and I’m comfortable here.”

The boy told the investigator that Jonas told him what to say. Jonas told state investigators that she warned children and parents about upcoming investigative interviews, but told the children to “tell the truth.”

Some of the former day care children said abuse by Jonas created psychological problems for them later in life. Paul Howard, the first child in Jonas’ day care in 1978, told The Bee he suffered abuse from her for more than a decade.

In one instance, Paul, his brother and another boy were disciplined by having to kneel around a turned-over garbage can and hold a lemon wedge in their mouth, state records say. Both Paul and his brother said Jonas humiliated them when they soiled themselves, including putting Paul’s brother on a highchair and announcing that “big boys don’t do that.”

Howard, who now lives in Los Angeles and works in the entertainment industry, said in an interview that he filed a complaint with the county against Jonas in 1999, at the suggestion of a counselor who was treating him for depression. Howard said he had seizures when he was younger and believes they were the result of physical and mental abuse by Jonas, as was the depression.

The county investigator determined the complaint was “inconclusive,” and noted that the investigative report “doesn’t need to be kept in the facility file,” according to a copy of the report. The investigator wrote that Jonas denied the allegations. The investigator also talked to parents and children in her care, both past and present, and was in “receipt of supportive letters from the parents of children in care.”

I am not perfect but it is not my routine to punish kids physically.

Sharon Jonas in a state investigative report

Howard said he was stunned when he was contacted 15 years later by a state investigator. He said testifying against Jonas earlier this year helped him overcome the shame he felt from her abuse. “I was so afraid of her,” he said. “I felt confusion, guilt and responsibility. Now I feel like I have a new beginning because I found my voice.”

The Bee is naming Howard because he wanted to go public with his story. Other former day care children were named in the state documents, but their names are being withheld because they were alleged victims of child abuse and have not spoken to The Bee.

The Department of Social Services started its investigation in January 2015 when it received a complaint alleging abuse by Jonas more than a decade ago. Like Howard, the woman brought up the alleged abuse with a counselor, and the counselor was required to report it. She suffered from an eating disorder and other problems, according to the state records.

She told a state investigator that Jonas regularly hit her with fists. She said she told her grandparents, who housed her during her 10 years in day care, but they did not believe her.

In an interview with a state investigator, Jonas conceded an “isolated incident” in which she became overly angry and pushed that girl into a wall. Another former day care child told a state investigator that she saw Jonas pull the same girl into a room and beat her after the girl complained to Jonas’ husband about abuse in the home.

Besides acknowledging the wall incident, Jonas said she hit a baby on the head with a feeding bottle and tapped a child on the head with a pencil.

“I am not perfect but it is not my routine to punish kids physically,” Jonas said, according to the investigative report. She called Howard’s claims of abuse “delusional.”

Former day care children said Jonas made them do work around the house. The chores included feeding and cleaning the babies under Jonas’ care and to “cut Sharon’s toe nails, give Sharon manicures, give Sharon massages, and pluck Sharon’s chin hairs,” according to the investigative report.

A former day care child “told me that she is surprised that it took this long for the day care to be investigated,” the report states. Howard and other former day care children said they were intimidated by Jonas and add that she made a good impression around parents.

Linda Barnard, a board-certified expert on traumatic stress, testified during the administrative hearing that it is common for children who have been abused to have some delay in reporting it. One reason is that they form a “traumatic bond” with the abuser, she said.

In her decision, King said she found the former day care children to be credible, in part because they offered similar accounts of Jonas’ behavior. King said Jonas’ argument that her accusers were fabricating stories is a case of refusing “to accept any responsibility whatsoever for her own actions.”

King revoked Jonas’ day care license and barred her from ever holding a position in any facility licensed by the Department of Social Services.