Prosecutor: Daycare owners abused children by swaddling them too tight

Prosecutor: Daycare owners abused children by swaddling them too tight
Lida Sharaf waits in the holding area at Superior Court for arraignment on felony and misdemeanor child abuse charges in Pleasanton, Calif., Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Jim Stevens)
PLEASANTON, Calif. (AP) — Two sisters facing charges that they endangered the lives of infants at their Northern California daycare center by binding them too tightly in swaddling blankets didn't intend to hurt the babies and contend they didn't commit child abuse, their attorney said.

Timothy Rien spoke Thursday, as Nazila Sharaf and Lida Sharaf were arraigned in an Alameda County courtroom on three counts of felony child abuse and neglect and four counts of misdemeanor child abuse and neglect, the Contra Costa Times reported.

Neither woman entered a plea.

Swaddling is a technique used on babies in which a caregiver wraps the infant snugly. The idea is to resemble the womb and comfort the child. When done correctly, swaddling can be an effective technique to help calm infants and promote sleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Police allege Nazila Sharaf, 35, and Lida Sharaf, 33, wrapped up seven babies between the ages of 7 months and 1 year at their preschool in Livermore too tightly like a "boa constrictor," impairing their ability to move and breathe comfortably.

In court documents, police contend that the children were too old to be swaddled.

The babies' swaddling blankets were secured with heavy-duty knots for a "lengthy" period of time, and blankets were thrown over their faces while their arms and legs were bound, rendering them virtually incapable of rescuing themselves if they needed air, police said.

"All of these children could have died in the process of binding these extremities," Livermore Police Officer Steve Goard said.

Thirty parents of 19 infants were interviewed during the investigation, which began last month after state officials requested the police department's help in closing the center, authorities said. The state Department of Social Services had found multiple licensing violations, including inappropriate swaddling techniques.

A woman who worked there for two weeks and quit had reported her concerns, authorities said.

Doctors examined all of the children who were at the day care center, and none showed signs of injury related to the alleged abuse, according to Goard.

Rien is disputing the charges.

"There is a fight ahead in this case," he said. "First is the fight over bail, and then there's a fight over the charges themselves."

In 2010, the state Department of Social Services shut down a child care facility that Lida Sharaf had been operating for a similar swaddling offense, department spokesman Michael Weston said.

Lida Sharaf agreed to sell her facility and give up her rights as a licensee at that time, Weston said. In return, the department agreed to allow her to continue to work at a child care facility as long as she was not the licensee or the owner.

In 2011, Nazila Sharaf received a license as the owner of the Livermore preschool in question with her sister, Lida, as an employee.

A Sharaf family member said both sisters are pregnant. They are in protective custody in jail on $340,000 bail each and are scheduled to appear in court again Monday for a plea hearing, according to the Contra Costa Times.