Sunday , February 19, 2017 - 5:00 AM
Six times in the past five years, children have been found by passers-by after wandering out of Northern Utah day care centers, state inspection data shows.
Walkaways, lax supervision, choking and hanging hazards, incidents of physical punishment, sanitation lapses and failures in criminal background checks are among the 344 rules violations logged by state day care inspectors at licensed centers in Weber, Davis, Morgan, Box Elder and Cache counties from 2011 through 2016.
At least 97 centers and hundreds of day care personnel in the region are under the jurisdiction of the Utah Child Care Licensing Program, which conducts annual, unannounced and follow-up inspections — and launches special investigations in response to complaints.
As Utah continues to lead the nation in birth rate — 16.95 births per 1,000 population in 2015 — day cares are under pressure to provide quality, and the state tries to enforce it.
“A 2-year-old child left the facility without a caregiver and was found by a concerned citizen in the street,” a report said after a 2013 incident at College For Tots in Clearfield.
Other child walkaways were investigated at Growing Tree of Pleasant View, Kidz Town North in Ogden, Bryden Academy in Bountiful, and Kid Care Co. of North Salt Lake.
Two of the walkaways were reported at Kidz Town within three days in April 2015. Inspection reports said a child was found in the parking lot on April 20 and another was found across the street on April 22. Efforts to reach Kidz Town for comment were unsuccessful.
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Walkaways can be a symptom of inadequate staffing.
In one review of Bravo Arts Academy in Riverdale, inspectors documented a paucity of staff compared to the number of children.
“In classroom 6 there were 19 four-year-olds with one teacher,” the report said. “In classroom 13 there were five infants with one teacher. In classroom 15 there were 14 two-year-olds with one teacher. In classroom 16 there were 18 two-year-olds with two teachers.”
College For Tots, site of the 2013 walkaway, had the area’s second-highest number of citations in the five-year period, a review of inspection reports shows. The center was penalized 27 times, seven of those repeat violations.
In addition to the toddler walkaway, College For Tots was docked for leaving children unattended. “In the nap room, eight children were unsupervised (and) a caregiver left eight unsupervised children in the infant room,” one report said.
Inspectors said they also found hanging hazards there, and potential strangulation threats at a handful of other centers.
“Two window blind cords long enough to encircle a child's neck were accessible to children age four and under. The blind cords were located in the classroom for two-to five-year-old children,” the College For Tots report said.
When violations are found, inspectors conduct follow-up inspections to ensure corrections have been made.
“We’re not perfect — no day care is,” said a woman at College For Tots who identified herself as Kyleigh, a manager. She would not give her last name.
She said problems usually can be attributed to “crappy” staff members. “We fix that by getting rid of them,” she said.
Simon Bolivar, state child care licensing director, provided data showing the agency tracks 389 licensed centers and more than 5,303 caregivers statewide. From 2011 through 2016, inspectors cited centers 834 times — 219 of those were repeat violations.
The agency also investigated 486 reported incidents, including six deaths, at all types of day care locations. Most deaths happen at unlicensed home day cares, he said. While the state does not have authority to license and regulate those locations, it does investigate reported incidents there.
Incidents are defined as deaths, hospitalizations, emergency medical response or injury that requires attention from a health care provider.
Licensed centers are eligible for subsidies if they meet regulatory benchmarks, he said, “and they also have support from licensing to ensure they are building their quality.”
“Licensing is the foundation for quality,” Bolivar said. “It will be good if people who care for kids and the parents understand that. Unlicensed day care is very unsafe. There are no background checks. You don’t really know who’s caring for your children.”
Two licensed day cares — Discovery Clubhouse in Ogden and Bright Basics Child Care Center of Roy — were cited for not reporting arrests, charges or convictions of staff members within 48 hours of becoming aware of it.
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Bolivar said the state is now tied into the FBI fingerprint database, which will help licensors detect people with criminal records who go to work at day cares. But in the past five years, local centers have violated background reporting requirements dozens of times. He said it’s the most frequent violation.
At least two local centers also were flagged for physical discipline of children.
“Discipline measures included a child being hit on the head,” an inspector wrote about Ce Ce’s DayCare in Washington Terrace. And Bryden Academy in West Bountiful was cited after a child was “grabbed by the arm and forced into the center’s office,” a report said.
At least a dozen centers were cited for sloppy management of children’s medications, reports said. Deficiencies included mislabeled or incompletely marked medications and pill bottles not locked away from children.
“A child found a pill on the floor of the child's classroom and swallowed it,” inspectors said in a report on a medication violation at New Hope Children’s Center of Ogden.
Kidz Town North of Ogden did not ensure that caregivers were aware of food allergies, a state report said. “A child with a documented allergy was given a food they were allergic to,” the report said.
And sanitation failings are not uncommon, according to state data.
For example, in the infant and toddler room at YCC Child Care Center in Ogden, “a child’s hands were washed in the sink used for food preparation,” a report said.
At Page’s Discovery Center in Roy, “a staff member did not wash their hands thoroughly with liquid soap and warm running water after diapering a child,” a report said.
Page’s was the most-cited center in Northern Utah with 34 violations, including 12 repeat citations. Violations included a caregiver smoking on the premises, and choking hazards in the lunchroom and preschool children’s classroom.
Bolivar said more than $25,000 in fines and other penalties were assessed to centers statewide in 2016. The agency can threaten to revoke a center’s license, and follow through on that threat if the center does not make mandated corrections.
“It happens every year,” he said. “We have a couple intents to revoke, or a revocation.”
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“Our intent is not to close. Our intent is to support them as long as they are providing for the health and safety of the children,” Bolivar said.
A handful of local centers have nearly spotless inspection records, including the Children’s Classic centers in Ogden and South Ogden. They had one citation between them in the last five years.
“A lot of training is your key,” said Justina Longman, director of the South Ogden center. “It’s pretty black and white to me. We all have to be trained and be aware of those rules to keep the children safe and healthy.”
She said working in day care requires “a heart for children.” And if a teacher who loves her class and has child development education,” you have an awesome teacher who is very effective.”
MOST COMMON VIOLATIONS BY DAY CARE CENTERS
Late or incomplete criminal background screenings
Inadequate supervision (children left alone, too many children, too few caregivers)
Hazards (choking, hanging, sharp objects, playground equipment, toxic materials)
Staff and director training and certifications
Record keeping, emergency procedures and drills
Cleaning, sanitation and maintenance
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the degree of the criminal offense that Bright Basics Child Care Center failed to report to the state within 48 hours of learning about it. The incident was a misdemeanor. The Standard-Examiner apologizes for the error.)
You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at email@example.com or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.
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