Woman accuses unlicensed daycare owner of abusing daughter

Woman accuses unlicensed daycare owner of abusing daughter
Forrest County Sheriff's Department Investigator John Tryner said Melanie Barnett was taken into custody and charged with child abuse and aggravated assault. (Photo source: Forrest County Jail)

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A woman who parents trusted with the care of their children is now behind bars instead of running her at-home daycare in Forrest County.

Forrest County Sheriff's Department Investigator John Tryner said it's believed Barnett took care of five to nine children at the home on Luther Carter Road, depending on the day.

The Mississippi Department of Health said there are no records or Barnett applying for a license, which is required by law for six or more children at a home facility.

"A license is required if you care for six or more children less than thirteen years of age, for any part of the twenty-four-hour day, who are not related (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, brothers/sisters, nieces/nephews) to you.  This includes day care centers, day nurseries, and any other facilities that fall within the scope of the above description. "

WDAM spoke to the mother of a child who was in Barnett's care for about five weeks. She asked for her identity to not be used.

"She was just recommended to us through a couple family friends, she had great references and it just seemed like the way to go," the mother said.

She said she became aware of an incident Monday involving her 3-year-old daughter and alerted authorities.

"Melanie had told me they had a rough day, but the bruises did not show up till Wednesday," she said.

Tryner said the sheriff's department found probable cause to petition the court for her arrest. 

"I mean, she told me that she spanked her for five to ten minutes," the concerned mother said.

To check on licensed facilities in your area, you can use an online database from the Mississippi Department of Health

"You can look at quite a few things, you can look at a particular area you are interested in for finding child care for that child," said Melissa Parker, director for the Office of Licensure.

The database contains more than 1,500 licensed facilities, including head start, summer or special needs programs. You can find performance information, inspections, investigations and more.

"We just felt like it was a great tool and a really good resource for parents to be able to look and make an informed decision about where they want to place their child in childcare," Parker said. 

A tool one concerned mother now knows about and wants others to use.

"Make sure you research where they go and who they are around and their history," said the 3-year-old's mother. "Just be careful, be cautious and pay attention."

Barnett will make her initial appearance before a judge on Friday. The investigation is ongoing.