Do you know if your child's day care is safe?
FOX10 News Investigates is digging into new religious-based day care inspection reports.
In Alabama, religious day cares that also receive federal funding are beginning to be inspected for the very first time by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) thanks to a recent federal law.
So, FOX10 News Investigates issued an Open Records Request with DHR, asking for copies of the recent inspection reports for all of the day cares in Mobile and Baldwin counties which fall in that category.
It took DHR five months to send the documents.
There were hundreds of pages of inspection reports for 78 different day cares in Mobile and Baldwin.
All the reports were filled out by hand, so FOX10 News Investigates created a computer database to make better sense of the information.
After spending days tallying the information listed in the reports, FOX10 News Investigates found some startling numbers.
The reports show there were 8,220 violations found at all 78 day cares combined.
Further, 35 day cares had more than 100 violations, and five day cares had more than 200 violations.
FOX10 News Investigates showed the findings to Jeanetta Green, DHR's Director of Child Care Services.
“I think the evaluation and doing the monitoring visits kind of brought to a forefront that the need was there,” said Green.
Navigate the Daycare map below, Click on the location where of your child's daycare to see how many violations, and what kind of violations, were discovered there. To View a full-screen map click here
Some of the most common violations include shelves and equipment not being properly anchored, which could fall and injure children, hazardous substances not locked up, and the outdoor play areas containing hazardous conditions, like protruding nails, active ant beds, and hornets nests, just to name a few examples.
The most common problem?
Proper staff to children ratios were not maintained at all times.
In fact, 18 different facilities were found in violation for not having all children supervised at all times.
"Some of the things may not necessarily be a staff member was not in that room, but it may be that the staff member was not paying the proper attention to what was going on in the room,” said Green, “and that's when some things can happen."
Nearly 30 day cares were in violation for not keeping transportation checklists, which would make sure that all children are accounted for, something that could have prevented Kamden Johnson's death.
What's more, several day cares weren't even keeping simple sign in and out sheets to keep track of every child.
“So if you have someone who was signed in to the program, and at the end of the day, there was not a sign out, then you want to make sure there's no one left in the classrooms,” said Green.
FOX10 News Investigates found even more issues with staff.
More than 270 staff members working at these license-exempt day cares did not have CPR training, and nearly 180 employees who are required to have a driver's license for their jobs, did not have one, or couldn't provide proof of one.
Even worse, six different facilities were in violation for staff members with records of misconduct.
"It goes to what that facility is doing prior to employing a staff to make sure that staff person has nothing in their history that would perhaps make them unsuitable to care for children,” said Green. “We specifically look for background check information, we specifically look for child abuse neglect information to see if they have those clearances.”
Green said the new inspections on these religious day cares receiving federal funding only check for the minimum health and safety standards, so it’s crucial facilities follow the policies to keep kids safe.
“For us, all of the violations are concerning, because we would not list them as things that we want them to adhere to if we didn't think there was the potential for something serious to happen to a child,” said Green. “What we’re looking at right now is not the highest quality of health and safety, what we’re asking is that you meet minimal health and safety. So for us, any area that is not in compliance with those standards is a concern, because we have identified by having these standards, that this is something that could harm a child.”
Green said some of those day cares have made appropriate fixes, but some others still are not up to par.
She said DHR does not fine facilities for being in violation, but instead gives them a deadline to make changes.
If a day care still cannot improve, DHR has the authority to strip the facility of its government funding, however, DHR said that hasn’t happened yet.
The painful consequences of day care neglect
In the last 20 years, four children in Mobile County have died while under day care supervision.
Kamden Johnson, only 5-years-old, of Mobile, was the most recent victim.
Police say he was left in a hot van by a day care worker, his body was dumped along Demetropolis Road.
Valarie Patterson was charged in connection to his death, but the case is still pending a grand jury decision.
Kamden attended the Community Nursery and Preschool Academy on Hillcrest. DHR said it has been totally in compliance since November 2017.
In 2005, two-year-old Amiyah White died after a worker left her in a day care van.
"When I found out it was pure devastation,” her mother told FOX10 News.
Mary Grove and Avis Betts were both convicted for leaving Amiyah in the broiling van for 90 minutes. Each were sentenced to probation.
Three years earlier, in 2002, 10-week-old Douglas Hernandez died after his day care drugged him without his parents' consent.
"We just broke down and cried,” said his father, Robert Hernandez, in 2003. “We thought how my son must have suffered."
In 1998, Alisha Coleman's life was turned upside down, when she got the news her three-year-old son, Demyreon Lindley, was killed after his day care left him in a hot church van for 10 hours.
“I really thought it was a nightmare, I just couldn't understand it, I couldn't wrap my mind around it, like, my child will never come back home, I will never see my child again,” said Coleman.
20 years after day care death, DHR finds 181 violations at facility
Demyreon's day care was the First Baptist Church of Baltimore Street in Mobile.
Day care worker Tchnavian Dailey was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, and sentenced to a year in jail, but the day care has remained open.
Because of its religious affiliation, the day care isn't licensed by the state, but DHR inspected it for the first time in September 2017, because it receives federal funding.
The inspection report shows DHR found 181 violations.
Coleman was appalled.
"Heart wrenching, very upsetting, that's unbelievable,” she said.
The report shows a wide variety of problems, from the outdoor play area having hazardous conditions to children not being supervised at all times.
"Another child could possibly lose their life there,” Coleman said. “How are they still open and operating with all of those violations?"
The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Baltimore Street declined to speak on camera, but said his day care has made appropriate changes.
Legislators tightening laws, but is it enough?
Some lawmakers in Montgomery are starting to see the need for stronger regulations.
Representative Pebblin Warren sponsored a bill, HB76, which has just become law.
It will require all religious day cares receiving state or federal funding to be licensed by 2019, and it requires all facilities, no matter their exemption or funding status, to conduct background checks on employees.
“I think the poorest child in this state deserves quality health and safety when it comes to day cares,” Warren said.
But, DHR said there are still about 500 day cares across Alabama which are both religious-affiliated, and do not receive government money, that will continue to operate without DHR inspections.
FOX10 News Investigates asked Warren what her message would be to critics who might say HB76 is not stringent enough.
“To those, I would say, it's progress,” Warren responded. “Things don't happen overnight."
Warren first tried to push for all day cares across the state to be inspected, but that plan failed.
Senator Greg Albritton, who represents northern Baldwin County and Clarke County, voted "no."
“There's two particular reasons that prompted me to take that stand,” explained Albritton. “It makes me uncomfortable to have the church report its religious teachings to the state…. number two is money…the state now has the obligation to go in and do inspections... and there's no money in the bill to provide for that."
DHR said because of the federal law going into effect, it already increased its budget by $426,000 last year.
The agency said it will need $238,000 more to pay for the new state requirements passed this year.
Both legislators said they will be monitoring how the new state law goes, and will likely revisit the issue in the next legislative session.
For parents like Coleman, more stringent laws can't come soon enough.
"I really hope that they will make the law affective to everyone across-the-board, whether they get federal funding or not....they need to get it together, before they lose another child,” she said.
Check your child’s day care
The FOX10 News Investigative Team has created an interactive map, so you can see how many violations, and what kinds of violations, were found at your child's religious day care when it was inspected last fall.
Click here to check your child’s facility, keep in mind, your child’s day care may or may not have made appropriate changes since DHR inspected it.
If your child's day care is not on our map, that means it's either licensed by DHR, or it is not licensed and doesn't receive federal funding.
To search DHR’s directory of day care facilities, click here.
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