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Police probe day care center after toddler's left at beach

New York State Park Police officers accompany a

New York State Park Police officers accompany a 2-year-old girl who authorities said was left behind at the beach at Heckscher State Park in East Islip by a Bay Shore day care center after a group outing there. (Aug. 14, 2012) Credit: Julio Saravia

A Bay Shore day care center, under scrutiny after police said employees abandoned a 2-year-old girl on a South Shore beach, had been cited by the state for improperly supervising children.

During a routine inspection Jan. 26, the Office of Children and Family Services found that Our Little Darlings Early Educational Center violated a state regulation requiring "direct visual contact with the children at all times," records show.

The agency launched an investigation of the center after police reported that the girl -- on a day care outing with other children -- had been left behind Tuesday at Heckscher State Park in East Islip, said Pat Cantiello, an agency spokeswoman.

Despite the January citation, records show the center is currently licensed and in good standing.

Our Little Darlings has been operating for about five years without fines, suspensions or other serious enforcement actions, records show. The center is permitted to care for 16 children, 12 of whom can be as young as 6 weeks.

Suffolk County Child Protective Services and State Park Police are also looking into Tuesday's incident.

"This is a very active investigation," said Capt. Bruce Marx, commander of the state park police for the Long Island region. "We're going to look at criminal charges, that's for sure. . . . I don't know how you leave a child alone at the beach."

Managers at the day care center declined to comment Wednesday. Attempts to reach the center's owner were not successful.

An employee who wouldn't provide her name said the center had already begun to put safety procedures in place that would prevent a similar incident.

Marx said police first became aware of the stranded child about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and immediately began searching for the girl's parents. When no one claimed the child, other law enforcement departments and social services authorities were alerted.

About 6:30 p.m., someone from the day care center called park police to ask whether anyone had found a little girl, Marx said. The child's mother was then located and reunited with her daughter, who was unharmed.

Julio Saravia, 30, of Central Islip, who was at Heckscher Park Wednesday with his family, said he could only imagine how the girl's parents must have felt when they learned she was lost.

"Luckily, it ended well," he said.

With Nathaniel Herz

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