For parents in California, seeking out information on day cares requires a drive to a county office and a look inside a manila folder: the only place where parents can find inspection information for the state’s 48,000 facilities responsible for their children’s safety.
“It absolutely shouldn’t be this difficult,” said Denisse Ross, a mother of two from Sunnyvale.
Ross pulled her children out of De Colores Children's Center in San Jose after other parents reported issues with the care received. Ross said she had no idea how to access past inspection reports.
It’s an issue the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit and The Center for Investigative Reporting have been exposing for months now: parents with little access to day care inspection records in California.
For the first time, NBC Bay Area and CIR have posted inspection records for all child care centers from the last decade in the smallest and largest counties in the coverage area: Napa County and Santa Clara County.
States like Texas and Florida post all the records on their websites, allowing parents to comparison-shop and view the inspection history of day cares. California has only facility addresses on its website.
The CA Department of Social Services, which oversees child care facilities, only makes detailed inspection record information available at district offices. Under current law, the state is required to inspect them once every five years.
Earlier this year, the state told NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit that the system is so outdated, it does not track how many times day cares have received write-ups
“We understand the frustration of not being able to get this information," said Chief Deputy Director Pat Leary, who oversees the California Community Care Licensing Division that inspects daycares. Leary said the electronic system the state uses has no way of analyzing the data or tracking trends so officials can’t tell which facilities are performing well or poorly overall.
“That is the limitation of the system as we currently have it,” Leary said in an interview with NBC Bay Area in January.
So the Investigative Unit took on the task.
The team drove to the Department of Social Services’ Rohnert Park office in Sonoma County to scan documents for the 140 family day care homes and child care centers in Napa County. Our team then hand-entered the inspection data into a spreadsheet which allowed them to analyze the data.
Some of the most common violations involved leaving dangerous items in areas accessible to children, including cleaning chemicals, poisons and firearms.
Overall, in Napa County the Investigative Unit found 12 centers that each had two dozen or more violations in the last decade.
The facility in Napa County with the most violations, according to the data, is Children’s Cottage Preschool and Children’s Cottage Infant Center, which operate out of the same location and under the same owners.
Over the last ten years, the facilities together racked up 194 deficiencies.
This includes several instances when the day care lacked sufficient adult supervision. One report details a child who wandered away and could not be located by staff. Reports also show multiple instances of children pulling down their pants and one instance of them touching each other inappropriately when they did. It all happened with no adult noticing.
The Investigative Unit found an instance at Children’s Cottage where infants were left in high chairs for “long periods of time” without eating and another report says “a child who would not fall asleep... was placed in a high chair for at least ten minutes crying in a dark classroom."
The facility was put on a three-year probation that began in 2011. Though that probation was set to expire in June, 2014, California’s Department of Social Services recently moved to revoke Children’s Cottage’s license outright. A hearing to officially close Children’s Cottage is scheduled for October 14, 2014. Meanwhile, it continues to care for children.
“We are currently working to resolve these issues,” said Children’s Cottage owner and administrator Ray Welch in a telephone interview. Welch said due to legal issues, his attorney did not want him to talk on camera. “State licensing is doing their job and we are doing our job,” said Welch “No serious harm has come to a child.”
Welch did agree that state inspection records should be more available online for parents and he applauded NBC Bay Area and CIR’s efforts to make the system more transparent.
“I would like to see all citations go up on the Internet,” said Welch. “I want to assure you we want to address these issues.”
In Santa Clara County, the NBC Bay Area and CIR team also scanned in inspection records for all 584 child care centers in the county. Those records revealed hundreds of deficiencies parents would want to know about before placing a child in daycare. Some of the more common deficiencies: lack of supervision, children being left alone and poor sanitation of food prep.
“I am beyond angry,” Amanda Lipscomb, whose 2-year old daughter, Riley previously attended De Colores Children’s Center on Martinvale Lane in San Jose , told NBC Bay Area. “It makes it very hard to trust anyone,” Lipscomb’s partner, Amber Neil, said.
The couple claims Riley had been getting colds from the room at De Colores being kept at cool temperatures amongst other care issues.
State inspectors confirmed that a large room at the day care had been kept at 59 degrees, below the required minimum of 68 degrees in a December 20, 2013 inspection report.
“If we would’ve known some of these issues prior to putting Riley in the school, we would have never done that,” Lipscomb said.
The parents had no idea that the center had been cited for seven deficiencies since December of 2013- including lack of supervision and children going to the bathroom alone.
Despite numerous phone calls to the center and one visit, no one from De Colores Children’s Center returned NBC Bay Area’s requests for comment.
The NBC Bay Area/CIR team also found violations in other facilities in Santa Clara County. Deficiencies such as: a child being left in a parking lot, another child being pinched as punishment and staff threatening to call police if children didn’t nap.
At Primary Plus on Bucknall Road in Saratoga, a child with a peanut allergy was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich even though the teacher knew the child was allergic. The inspection report shows the child was sent to the hospital.
Primary Plus on Bucknall Road has been cited by state inspectors for 39 different deficiencies over the last ten years and been fined a total of $2150.
Others deficiencies found in Primary Plus’ file include no criminal background check on a staffer, too few adults watching too many children, and several deficiencies for lack of supervision.
Owner Carole Freitas declined to talk on camera but told NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit in an email that “none of the violations related to the quality of child care received” and that “all violations have since been cleared. “
“Most of the violations happened prior to 2010,” said Freitas in her e-mail. “These violations were primarily administrative and/or related to a building and grounds in need of repair.”
Because of the work by the NBC Bay Area/CIR team, some state lawmakers now want the state Department of Social Services to be required to post these records online.
State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who represents parts of Los Angeles, is leading the charge with AB 2621, a bill she introduced after NBC Bay Area began reporting on the topic. Garcia’s staff said they took some of the language for the bill directly from the first NBC Bay Area-CIR story on day care transparency.
“We’re in a state where we can find almost anything online,” Garcia said. “I can figure out information about the nail salon, the donut shop, but when it comes down to information about our kids, our family members, there’s limited information there.”
Parents say the information should be easier to access.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to get any information from the state of California,” Lipscomb said.
“It’s not like I completely give over my parenting to the state of California,” Ross added. “I’m a parent, I’m going to be active, but are you going to make it so difficult for me to understand how I should be looking at these day cares? Why is it so difficult?”