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John Lundy, Forum Communications, Published October 24 2012

2 rural Duluth men lose child care license after punishment allegations

DULUTH, Minn. - Two rural Duluth men have had their child care license revoked after the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department alleged that one of the men bit a child and was responsible for numerous incidents of corporal punishment.

In a letter to Steven J. and Jose G. Morales of Lavaque Road dated Oct. 17, Mary Kelsey of the Minnesota Department of Human Services wrote that their license was revoked. A letter a week earlier notified Steven Morales that he had been disqualified from any position having direct contact with individuals served by DHS programs.

The license revocation is subject to appeal, and Steven Morales has the right to request reconsideration of his disqualification. In a phone interview, Morales said he didn’t intend to take either action.

The Morales’ license had been suspended on July 18 after St. Louis County public health investigators received a report and the DHS determined the children in their care “were in imminent risk of harm,” according to the Oct. 17 letter.

A letter from St. Louis County dated Aug. 8 said Steven Morales had been “found responsible for maltreatment (physical abuse).” Morales did not request reconsideration of that finding, the Oct. 17 letter said.

The Oct. 17 letter listed several allegations of corporal punishment used by Steven Morales. Only one — slapping the hands of three children who played with his puzzle — listed a date: July 16.

According to the letter, Steven Morales also:

• Grabbed a child by the neck

• Aggressively shoved a child against a door

• Spanked multiple children on multiple occasions

• Bit a child

• Hit several children during naptime

• Shoved two children

• Slapped children on the face

• It also charged that Steven Morales separated a child from the group by placing the child outside on the porch. It said there was snow on the ground at the time, and the child was inadequately dressed for the weather.

Minnesota rules prohibit use of corporal punishment of children by caregivers. The rules allow separation of a child from the group for up to 10 minutes, but require that the child “must be placed in an area or separate room that is well-lighted, free from hazards, ventilated and open to the view of caregivers.”

In the phone interview, Steven Morales declined to comment on the allegations. He said he offered child care in his home for about five years. He said he didn’t remember how many children he cared for. According to the DHS website, the license qualified him to care for up to 12 children.

In a separate phone interview, Jose Morales, who goes by “Joe,” said he had been working outside the home and had no involvement in the child care operation or the incidents, even though his name is on the license. Joe Morales said that Steve Morales knows what he did was wrong, and he is getting therapy.

Steven and Joe Morales are partners who had a commitment ceremony about five years ago, Joe said. They have four children of their own, he said. Joe has two biological children from a previous relationship, and they have adopted two children. Those children were not affected by the DHS ruling, he said.

Joe Morales said no criminal charges came out of the investigation. The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office confirmed that.