When parents search for day care, many trust that because a center or a home is licensed by the state, it must be safe. But a federal audit of 20 home day care providers in Connecticut tells a different story.
“We determined that all 20 of the providers that we reviewed did not comply with one or more state licensing requirements to ensure the health and safety of children,” Deputy Inspector General Gloria L. Jarmon, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported Tuesday.
The problems cited at the home day care centers — in Bridgeport, East Hartford, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Waterbury, Windsor and Windsor Locks — included dog droppings in the outdoor play area at several homes to dead insects lying near dining areas. One center provided just two toys for its children play with. Six of the homes were “unclean or unsanitary.”
In addition, background checks had not been made in eight homes on people who either lived there or spent extended periods of time there. This is required by state law.
The inspector general found that the Department of Children and Families, the state’s child welfare agency, was investigating residents at two of the homes. At one of those, police found five unattended children under 2 years old, including a 4-month-old who was asleep face-down in a crib.
But in that incident, the provider did not lose her day care license. This is a rare occurrence in Connecticut. Last year, eight of the state’s 2,470 licensed family day care home providers lost their license or voluntarily surrendered them after problems were revealed.
The state checks day care providers only once every three years, which is the root of the problem, according to the inspector general’s report.
“Without inspections or monitoring of providers, regulations alone have limited value,” the report says. “Some health and safety violations may exist up to 3 years before a state licensing inspector discovers a problem that places children at risk.”
However, seven of the 20 inspected homes with violations highlighted in the report had been inspected by the state in the previous 12 months, and had kept their licenses.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health, the state’s licensing agency, agrees with the finding, but a spokesman said the agency doesn’t have the money to do anything about it.
“Current resources enable the Department to meet the mandate of inspecting family day care homes every third year,” said William Gerrish.
The agency said 11 additional staff members would have to be hired — at a cost of $1.4 million a year — to conduct annual audits.
“Efforts to identify additional resources to support increased monitoring of licensed facilities will continue in 2014,” the state responded to the inspector general’s office.
These shortfalls aren’t a new problem.
“Inspections revealed an alarming number of significant health and safety concerns,” the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, which provides independent research for the health care industry, reported in December 2009 on its finding of the unannounced spot visits.
The state, however, is ahead of some states in this regard, reports Child Care Aware of America, a national organization that works with state and local child care agencies to improve safety. Connecticut ranks 15 by the organization when considering safety benchmarks. In the category of regular inspections, the state ranked No. 1 is Oklahome, which inspects day care facilities three times a year.
A new office in Connecticut –- the Office of Early Childhood -– is slated to take over the licensing of day care facilities in July 2014.
Myra Jones-Taylor, the executive director of that office, said in a statement that she supports increasing monitoring. “Increasing the presence of inspectors in programs will improve the health and safety of children in these settings by identifying deficiencies before children are negatively impacted,” she said.
The state is working to create a rating system for all the state’s child care providers, but it is unclear when that will be ready or if participation will be mandatory.
The rating system would give providers incentives to improve their programs. Child advocates have expressed concerns for years about the lack of coordination among the hodge-podge of state child care programs. The proposal a key state panel presented last year would create a new four-tiered system, and state reimbursements would be linked to a rating.
Before even getting to the first tier, background checks of all employees would have to be done, and staff would need first aid training.
To move up the rating ladder, performance benchmarks, not measured by student performance, would need to be achieved. Increased professional development and higher education levels of staff members will also earn programs higher marks. Programs will also have to be working toward certification with the National Association for the Education of Young Children to land the highest rating.
Office of Inspector General audit, Sept. 2013 (Return to the article here.)
State reponse to audit (Return to the article here.)
Analysis of Department of Public Health Child Care Licensing Specialists Reports (Return to the article here.)
Childcare state rankings (Return to the article here.)