Daycare workers dosed toddlers before naptime, a practice more common than you'd think

Three daycare workers were arrested after giving kids gummy bears laced with the sleep aid melatonin in anticipation of naptime.

On Friday, after police were called to the Kiddie Junction Daycare near Chicago for a “suspicious incident,” the teachers admitted feeding the candy to some members of their class, consisting of 2-year-old children, according to local news station Chicago 5.

Kristen Lauletta, 32, Jessica Heyse, 19, and Ashley Helfenbein, 25, are charged with two counts of endangering the life or health of a child and two counts of battery, among other potential charges. The teachers are currently out on bail but will appear in court on April 4.

According to People, the teachers had been giving their students melatonin since November 2016 but insisted that because it is available over the counter, it was appropriate.

A representative from Kiddie Junction Daycare tells Yahoo Lifestyle it has no comment on the charges.

(Photo: Des Plaines Police Department)
(Photo: Des Plaines Police Department)

According to WebMD, melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the brain’s pineal gland that guides the body’s sleep-and-wake cycles. Each individual produces his or her own amount of melatonin but, generally, levels rise in the evening, making people tired, and decline in the morning when it’s time to wake up.

Synthetic versions are available as supplements to help fight insomnia or jet lag, but a medical professional should always be consulted before use.

Daycare workers in Chicago were arrested for giving their charges melatonin-filled gummy bears to help the kids sleep. (Photo: Getty Images)
Daycare workers in Chicago were arrested for giving their charges melatonin-filled gummy bears to help the kids sleep. (Photo: Getty Images)

“The bottle specifically said it shouldn’t be given to children under 15,” police commander Chris Mierzwa told People. “The problem is you shouldn’t be giving anything to a child that hasn’t been authorized by the parents, even if it is an over-the-counter supplement. I talked to one mother personally, and she said she was wondering why her son came home a little more groggy than usual from school.”

Melatonin is often freely administered without parental consent. In 2014, the Hug A Bear daycare center in Montrose, Colo., was accused of giving 35 children melatonin pills. In 2015, a North Carolina daycare called Miss Em’s Childcare Development Center was investigated after a teacher was caught putting melatonin in the children’s milk, and in 2016, Kidz Connection daycare in Deltona, Fla., underwent a similar inquiry. In many cases, the teachers were exposed after parents began questioning why their children were so drowsy after school.

“While studies have shown that melatonin is generally safe for children, the long-term effects are not known,” Andy J. Bernstein, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a physician at North Suburban Pediatrics in Chicago, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, adding that parents who use melatonin should also reconsider their children’s bedtime routines.

“For example, parents might try reading or singing to their kids before bed, activities that would induce sleepiness, along with a short-term dose of melatonin,” he explains.

The teachers may have also crossed an ethical or safety boundary by administering the candy, not just the supplement, without permission. It’s unknown whether the children had any allergies or dietary and feeding issues that would have prevented them from eating the food or using the chemical. While the AAP doesn’t list gummy bears as a choking hazard, the chewy consistency (similar to gum, which the organization discourages for young children) may present a choking hazard for some, although Bernstein says gummies are generally manageable, depending on the child.

Bernstein also notes that there are unknown effects of administering melatonin to children during the day, including potential sleep problems.

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