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Is melatonin safe for kids? Day care head jailed for administering it

A day care director is behind bars for giving melatonin to kids under her care, and parents say it could have jeopardized their health. Is that true?
Is melatonin safe for kids? Day care head jailed for administering it
Posted at 9:59 PM, Feb 08, 2024

A former Indiana day care director has been sentenced to six months in jail after admitting she gave melatonin gummies to kids ahead of nap time without parental consent.

Tonya Rachelle Voris began her jail term after the sentencing Friday, coming a month after the 54-year-old pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of neglect of a dependent and six misdemeanor counts of reckless supervision by a child care provider, court filings state.

Voris was the director of New Life Church's Kidz Life Childcare Ministry near Indianapolis when police began investigating a tip of potential child neglect at the center in January 2023. 

A probable cause affidavit states the month prior, a parent had asked Voris to give their child a specific amount of pediatric-strength melatonin ahead of nap time, sparking the idea to administer the supplement to other kids.

Around this time, parents began reporting out-of-character behavior among their kids who went to the day care, including increased sleepiness, headaches and bed-wetting, Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.

The investigation soon revealed employees had given 17 children melatonin gummies at different times, all without the knowledge of parents and under the instruction of Voris, Eaton said.

When confronted about the allegations, Voris and her husband became defensive, leading the child care director to be terminated from her position and served charges a month after the investigation began, Eaton said. 

Voris initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but changed her plea to guilty last month. As a result, the now-Florida resident will serve 180 days in Hancock County Jail before spending 550 days on formal probation, court filings show.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

During Voris' sentencing hearing, several parents of the 17 children provided victim impact statements emphasizing her misuse of the sleep aid potentially jeopardized the health of the young kids. But the emphasis here is on "potentially," as little is known about the effects of melatonin on a child. 

Humans naturally produce melatonin to regulate sleep-wake cycles, but supplements of the hormone are also sold in stores as sleep aids. 

But even though it's sold like a vitamin, experts warn consumers it's not, and that it's vital to talk with a doctor before you or your kids add it to your sleep-time routine.

This is in part because studies into its long-term effects are slim, particularly for kids. Some research, however, has pointed to it potentially interfering with puberty onset and metabolic systems.

Because of the lack of research, it's hard to pinpoint what a safe amount of melatonin would be for children. Some health professionals recommend starting with the lowest possible dose — 0.5 milligrams to 1 milligram — for young kids, while school-age kids can take up to 3 milligrams. 

But again, it's recommended to always involve a pediatrician before using the supplement, particularly as studies have shown that melatonin supplements often contain amounts of melatonin that differ greatly from what's indicated on the label.

From 2012 to 2021, melatonin-involved incidents reported to poison control centers increased 530%, according to the CDC. These largely occurred among kids younger than 5 years old.

In any case, melatonin should be thought of as a short-term method to help sleep, not a long-term sleeping pill for you or your kids.

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