That’s what Jackie Boatwright wants people to remember about her son, who died Sunday night at age 11 and whose injury at a Hephzibah day care in 2001 pushed her to get legislation passed in Georgia to help prevent similar accidents.
“He taught me to fight for people who didn’t know they needed fighting for,” Boatwright said Monday.
The fight Boatwright fought on behalf of “Juan” led to legislation being adopted in 2004 that forces child care facilities to disclose whether they have liability insurance. Three years earlier, Juan suffered brain damage when he was 14 months old, after he wandered into the kitchen of his day care and fell into a mop bucket filled with a mixture of bleach and water.
The day care didn’t have liability insurance and wasn’t required to have it. A $33 million judgment against the owner did her no good because there was no money to collect.
With the help of local legislators, Juan’s Law was passed. The measure doesn’t force day care centers to carry insurance but requires them to tell parents whether they have it. Boatwright got a similar measure passed in Virginia in 2006.
She tried to get the act passed on the national level, but it stalled in a U.S. Senate committee in 2009. The federal legislation would have required child care providers that receive Child Care and Development Block Grant funds to disclose whether they have liability coverage. It also would require that states recommend such coverage in their licensing process.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., who introduced and got the Anthony DeJuan Boatwright Act passed through the House in 2009, said he was saddened by the news of Juan’s death.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Juan’s mother, Jackie, and their entire family,” Barrow said in a statement Monday. “The sad truth is if day care centers were required to be honest and up front with parents when Juan was 14 months old, this might not have happened. Today, because of Jackie’s leadership, children and parents in Georgia won’t have to face such tragedies.”
Boatwright said she was checking on Juan about 9:30 p.m. Sunday in their DeKalb County, Ga., house when she found him in distress. Emergency medical technicians were unable to revive him.
“Juan was a pure joy to be around,” Boatwright said. “He was just a strong personality.”
One of her favorite memories of Juan exemplifies that. She said a nurse who helped take care of Juan would read him passages every day from the same book, The Itchy Elephant. The nurse began reading the book again one day, and Juan, whose injury forced him to use a ventilator, let out a huge sigh.
“It was like he was saying, ‘No, lady, you’re not going to read this again.’ ”
Funeral arrangements have not been set yet, but Boatwright said she wants to hold a memorial service in Augusta. A street in south Augusta is named after him. She said that she plans to keep fighting to get Congress to pass the bill and that takes pleasure in knowing that the legislation named after her son has affected the lives of many children.
“Juan’s legacy will always be children, the safety of children, the joy of children,” Boatwright said. “It will also be why we as adults should always protect children.”