California lawmakers have kick-started a movement to improve the way the state regulates its nearly 48,000 child care facilities and make that information accessible to parents.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, along with The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), have taken it on themselves to make these records available on the internet.
Two newly proposed assembly bills would make inspections more frequent and mandate the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees childcare facilities, posts that information on its website.
Earlier this year, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit and CIR exposed the system’s shortcomings and showed how California is falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to inspecting daycares and making that information accessible to parents seeking childcare.
Currently, California inspects child care facilities every five years and keeps this information on paper at regional and state offices.
The documents are available to parents only with a visit to the office. States like Texas and Florida both have online databases where parents can easily search inspections records.
Earlier this year, Pat Leary, the Chief Deputy Director who oversees the Community Care Licensing division of DSS that inspects daycares, told NBC Bay Area the state currently has no way of identifying daycares with frequent citations and the inspection data is not kept in a format that can be made understandable or accessible to parents electronically.
“Unfortunately, the way that our system works, we don’t have an easy way, we don’t even have a difficult way at the moment, we don’t have a way of taking the information in this system and putting it up online,” Leary said. “[The state] didn’t conceive of this idea of being able to aggregate data up, to be able to get statewide reports.”
Leary cited state budget cuts over the last decade as the major deterrent to implementing any change to the decades old system.
This new push to modernize California’s antiquated process, comes from some of the state assembly’s newest and youngest members.
Freshman Assemblymember, Ian Calderon, authored a bill that would require annual inspections for any community care facility, daycare center or residential care for the elderly.
“I think the government got lazy, we let budget cuts be an excuse, we let that be a crutch to where we have a complaint based system that isn’t proactive. We need to be proactive,” Calderon told NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit.
“These are our most vulnerable members of our society. And we’re saying we don’t care,” he said. “This is our job, we are not doing it and we need to now do it.”
Calderon does not have his own children, but believes his bill is essential to improving care for the next generation.
“I don’t think it’s an overnight fix,” Calderon said. “This is a fix that’s just going to happen over time."
“To me, it just seems like common sense that we have as much information as possible for parents to make an informed decision,” said freshman assemblymember, Cristina Garcia, who has proposed a separate bill that would require child care records to go online. “We can definitely say that there’s no longer an excuse for them not to deliver.”
The Investigative Unit and CIR decided not to wait for state legislation. CIR and NBC Bay Area journalists have scanned all 150 day care center records in Napa County (the smallest county in the Bay Area) and have begun the process of creating a database to analyze the data.
In the next couple months, the reporters will have a database available with multiple counties’ inspection records online and accessible to the public, which is more than the state of California has yet provided.
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