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Debunking Day Care in Louisiana: What's Behind State Regulations - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Debunking day care in Louisiana: what's behind state regulations and ratings

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LOUISIANA -

"When I pulled up I saw the ambulance and police, it was, I just can't describe the feeling. And when I got out of my car, all I hear was just screaming and hollering, screaming."

Tawana Green lives in Natchitoches where up until 2012, her son Gavin was enrolled in Daddy's Day Care.  In November of that same year, Green got a call from the day care saying her 9-month old was burned by a bottle warmer.  And she wasn't prepared for what she found.

"They took the covers off and let me see him, and his skin was just gone and he was screaming and hollering, until after a while he was just humming." 

Green later learned her son received 2nd and 3rd degree burns from a bottle warmer that fell on him.   She says the worker whose back was turned at the time of the incident, Valerie Braden, was fired.  And though Gavin's mother believes her son was the victim of an accident, documents show Braden was arrested and charged with cruelty to juveniles.  But green continued to ask questions, starting with the day care director, Darryl Walker.

"Common sense ought to tell you no bottle warmer, especially one that causes third degree to a child, should be in a facility… And so I got to asking questions, and he said it was sitting on a dorm size refrigerator, inside of an infant room, which kind of threw a red flag up. So the next day I went to work and I was just browsing the website, and I ran across the deficiencies."  Green looked at the health and safety inspection reports filed by Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS. Inspections are done at least once a year. "So I just started clicking on deficiency, and I clicked on the one for February 23rd, 2010, and lo and behold, a deficiency popped up saying this bottle warmer could severely burn a child or staff."

Some deficiencies are documented online, others must be requested from DCFS.  On February 23rd, 2010, daddy's day care did not meet the "clean of hazards" inspection.  According to the statement of deficiencies, "in the infant room 2 bottle warmers were placed on top of the refrigerator unsecure can easily spill and burn child or staff."  There were no other mentions of the bottle warmer until 2 years later, on November 29th, 2012 after Gavin was burned.  The statement of deficiencies read: "provider reported that C1 shook the mini refrigerator that was located in the infant room which resulted in an unsecured bottle warmer (containing hot water) Located on the top of the refrigerator to fall on C1. C1 sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns are a result of this incident."

"I really felt, this is a star day care, it's supposed to be one of the best, and for them to neglect to move this bottle warmer, and because they neglected to do what they were told to, my son was burned," says Green.

Green spent the past year working to get someone to recognize that this was a major oversight.  Her efforts led to the eventual arrest of the owner, Darryl walker, on December 20th, 2013, for one charge of Criminal Negligence.  But neither her son's accident nor two arrests prevent Daddy's Day Care from carrying a rating of 3 stars—awarded by another agency, and celebrated by the center. That agency—the Louisiana Quality Start Child Care Rating System—evaluates the educational atmosphere of a day care, and is a function of the state Department of Education, or DOE.  Their ratings are also carried on the website of the DCFS.  According to DOE, Quality Start is a voluntary star rating system for licensed child care centers designed to increase the quality of child care and early learning for all children throughout Louisiana. Both Class A and Class B licensed centers may choose to participate and can earn up to five stars based on meeting standards for quality. Even though the rating goes up to five, all star levels signify excellence.  For instance, a rating of three stars indicates that the center is well above current state requirements and is an outstanding center.

We spoke extensively with the DOE and DCFS about the inspections, deficiencies, and the ratings – to uncover what parents need to know when choosing a day care for their child, what information is available, and what isn't.

The DCFS handles licensing and inspections, and the star ratings are handled by the DOE.  The star ratings, are based on administrative practices, years in operation, family and community involvement, the educational programs offered to the children, and staff qualifications.  Not health and safety—that's the job of licensing and the inspectors.  Yet, if there's been any criminal allegations related to the center—it's on the parent or guardian to determine on their own.

"A licensing report will look at certain standards on a certain day and time, it's a snapshot if you will, we will include other things if they are related to the licensing board while they're there," according to Lindsey deBlieux, the Public Information Director with DCFS.  "What I can tell you is across the board, an arrest is not a conviction, we will continue to follow up on those reports."

Currently, Daddy's Day Care has no deficiencies, despite the serious injury and two arrests.  And, according to the DOE and DCFS a center can apply for a star if the center is licensed and has no outstanding deficiencies. 

"When there is an incident, there is potential child abuse, in a day care, we follow up with both our child welfare units and our licensing units," says deBlieux.  "For the licensing, we look at multiple factors, including the response of the daycare… that all comes into play as to whether the license will be revoked.  Our goal is not to close day cares, but to ensure the safety of those children in that day care."

According to DCFS, at the end of each inspection visit, the licensing specialist meets with the center director and goes over what was found at each visit and how deficiencies can be corrected. If serious deficiencies are found, a licensing manager will schedule an additional meeting with the center director to go over those deficiencies. Licensing specialists return as soon as possible and usually within 30 days for a follow up visit. Return visits for serious deficiencies are usually conducted even sooner than 30 days.  DCFS can revoke a license the first time a serious deficiency is revoked, depending on the severity of the deficiency. Deficiencies that could result in immediate revocation include ones where children are in immediate danger, such as lack of supervision, or dangerous environmental issues like a fire in the facility.  Centers have the right to contest the decision by submitting a written request for a fair hearing before an administrative law judge within 15 days of receipt of the revocation notice. Centers must cite specific reasons why the facility believes the Department's decision was reached in error.  When reports are not available online and users must contact DCFS for copies, it usually indicates that the report contains confidential information that must be redacted before being made public or that a computer issue required that the report was handwritten.

It's not just the rating that concerns Green, but that there were six DCFS inspections done between the 2010 bottle warmer deficiency report and when Gavin was hurt. Apparently, according to DCFS, there were no repeat bottle warmer violations during those six inspections, and Daddy's Day Care declined to comment about the whole situation.  Still, Green says something needs to be done to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"It could've been anybody's child, but it happened to be mine, and because it has been mine, then I'm going to do whatever I need to do because they need to change some of that."

Parents must be aware, the star rating may not tell the whole story.  Do your research, and be an advocate for your child.  Here are some tips:

Look for a licensed daycare.

You can see the Class A child care and Class B child care standards, which include reasons why DCFS would revoke, deny or not renew a license, here and here.

Look at each deficiency report and request additional deficiency reports if they are not available online.  You will probably have to call DCFS, mail them a letter and $0.25 a page, and then receive the report. 

Most importantly, as the DCFS representative points out, visit the center, talk to the administrators and the workers.  Also talk to other parents and children who are at the center. 

When it comes to criminal activity, the state does not have to disclose any information about arrests or allegations.  If there are valid findings of abuse, neglect or exploitation, you would have to ask DCFS for that information which they will provide if your child is enrolled at the center or applying to the center – (Act No. 1463 of 1997 amended the child care licensing act (La. R.S. 46:1401 et seq.) to authorize limited access to valid finding of child abuse, neglect or exploitation occurring at the center to parents of a child enrolled at a center, or to parents who have formally applied to enroll a child at a center. Disclosure to, or access by, any other person is prohibited by law and punishable under the criminal statutes of this State.)

The star ratings are currently an optional program that day cares choose to participate in.  However, a law passed in 2012, known as act 3, is changing some of how this works.  By 2015, both licensing and the rating system will be under the DOE.  In order for a day care to use public funding, they must participate in a rating system.  Currently, 13 communities statewide are participating in this Pilot Program.

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