Chesterfield mom uses personal tragedy to a call for change in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — About a dozen moms take a stand outside the Virginia Capitol. They are with the group ‘Child Care Aware of Virginia,’ and they are fighting to protect Virginia’s most vulnerable residents.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Belle Colassaco, who assembled with the women Thursday morning as lawmakers were reporting to work. “It just amazes me how this keeps happening.”

Colassaco is just starting to open up about the tragedy that turned her family upside down. It is a tragedy that since then, others across the Commonwealth have faced, as well.

In October 2006, Colassaco’s 16-month-old son Noah died at the hands of his babysitter in Chesterfield County.

“She had placed him in a Pack ‘n Play and put a dog crate on top where he got stuck and he asphyxiated,” Colassaco remembers.

8News followed the trial of the babysitter, Elizabeth Noakes. She served one year of a five-year sentence.

Colassaco says the ordeal left behind scars.

“I stayed home for many years, and I did not go back to work full-time because of that fear,” recalls Colassaco. “I did not trust, my husband and I did not trust anyone to watch our baby.”

That baby, a son named Riley, is now nine. Noah also holds a permanent place in Colassaco’s heart.

Through Child Care Aware of Virginia, she shares his story with lawmakers.

At Thursday’s event outside the Capitol, she engaged with lawmakers like Delegate Bobby Orrock (R-Caroline/Spotsylvania). She and the other women let the legislators know families who have dealt with loss will not stay silent.

“Parents have to work, and that’s a fact of life. And so it is important for us to have peace of mind for our children to be safe while we’re at work,” Colassaco states. “If Noah’s death was meant for something then hopefully something good will come out of it so that this doesn’t happen again.”

According to Angela Wirt, the Executive Director of Child Care Aware of Virginia, the group spoke with 150 members and General Assembly staffers from 70 Senate and House offices this morning.

Wirt says the group is supporting bills still making their way through the General Assembly:

One measure would require certain license-exempt daycare programs to meet some minimal health and safety requirements, such as CPR and safe sleep training. They would also have to post their unlicensed status and register with the Department of Social Service.

The other proposal would maintain required fingerprint background checks for regulated child care. That mandate is set to expire in July 2018.

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