It seems stunning to many parents that some daycare owners and operators can repeatedly violate the rules and still keep their licenses.
In our story, we talked about the problems at Mary Margaret's on Gravois Avenue and Bows and Bullfrogs in Union, Missouri.
Clearly, these facilities have a long history of substantiated complaints, but they aren't alone. During the last three years, the state of Missouri has suspended or revoked the licenses of 37 daycare operators, including Mary Roy, the owner/director of Bows and Bullfrogs. Only a few of those owners are still licensed.
Although there are many questions about the inspection process and follow-up in Missouri, the Section for Child Care Regulation has increased the number of suspensions/revocations this year. In 2006, there were ten. So far this year the state has suspended or revoked 15 licenses.
But sometimes the state's actions also create controversy. In the case of Bows and Bullfrogs and owner/director Mary Roy, state investigators found that a five year old boy was put in a bathroom alone with a bucket of water, a wash cloth and told to wipe the feces off his bottom. The child, who has a bowel control problem, refused. So, he was left there. State investigators determined that the boy was in the bathroom for 4 1/2 hours, including 2 hours naked. Mrs. Roy insisted her approach was necessary to break the child of his behavior. Investigators say Mrs. Roy told them "children are like horses" you need to break them.
Mrs. Roy, who declined to be interviewed for our story, insisted she was watching the child from outside the bathroom.
Three months later, after investigating unrelated complaints, the state issued an "immediate suspension" based on the bathroom incident and revoked Roy's license, insisting that Bows and Bullfrogs posed "an imminent threat" to children.
A hearing officer who ruled on the appeal of Mrs. Roy's suspension, questioned why the state waited three months to issue an "immediate suspension" of Roy's license because of the "imminent threat" to children. Why, the officer asked, would you wait three months if there was an imminent threat?
The officer found that "the preponderance of the competent and substantial evidence submitted showed that the Petitioner's (Mrs. Roy) action toward the subject child on March 28, 2008 constituted neglect." The hearings officer also found that Mrs. Roy didn't have a record showing that the incident took place, which are both violations of state daycare regulations.
However, the hearings officer also determined that the incident of neglect "was an isolated incident" and that Mrs. Roy had "substantial support and confidence in her services by parents utilizing her child care." As I mentioned during my report, some parents have also testified in defense of Mrs. Roy. The hearings officer ruled for Mrs. Roy and she re-opened. Her revocation hearing is scheduled for January.
It's clear that many parents strongly support Mrs. Roy. Some of those parents have also repeatedly downplayed her record of substantiated complaints, partly because they say they haven't seen her do anything inappropriate. Despite their defense of Mrs. Roy, there is a stack of substantiated complaints about Bows and Bullfrogs that is about an inch thick.
Since we have received significant interest on the Bows and Bullfrogs daycare, I'm providing a synopsis of some of those complaints:
In 1991, Mrs. Roy (then known as Mary Ming) was cited for telling a parent to lie about a child's age (the child was under the age of 2) so that the child could be accepted at Bows and Bullfrogs. Eventually, Mrs. Roy was allowed to care for the child and was told by state workers that it was a one time exemption. During the same investigation, Mrs. Roy was also cited for giving children kool-aid instead of milk.
In 1992, a child said that Mrs. Roy's former husband Jim had pushed him in anger and cursed at him. Jim Ming (Roy's ex-husband) admitted that "he used three fingers against Bill's (I changed the boy's name for this story) chest. The state required the entire staff, including Mrs. Roy and her ex-husband to participate in a workshop that discussed the appropriate way to discipline children. Mr. Ming wasn't charged in the case.
In 1994, Mrs. Roy was cited for failing to report suspected child abuse as required by law. A little girl told a daycare employee that her "daddy" had pushed her into a dresser "for peeing in (her) pants." The worker took the child to Mrs. Roy and the child repeated the statement to Mrs. Roy.
Mrs. Roy told investigators that she talked to the child's mother and got a different version of events. That version still reflected abuse, so Mrs. Roy told the mother that the girl's stepfather had used inappropriate discipline and if it happened again Mrs. Roy would report him to authorities.
In a report on the incident, a state investigator wrote that Mrs. Roy said "she did not care if there is a law to report suspected child abuse/neglect. She had acted with her heart and would continue to do so in similar situations." In a telephone conversation two months later, the investigator wrote that Mrs Roy believes "children should remain in abusive environments rather than being pulled out of their homes and put in one foster home after another. Kids are better off with their parents."
In 1998, Mrs. Roy admitted transporting children in the back of a pickup truck without child restraints. During a telephone call with a state investigator, the investigator wrote that Mrs. Roy admitted that "children not in seat belts are at risk, but she watches them like a hawk." Mrs. Roy added that "people (meaning parents) need to mind their own business" and let her run the daycare. Mrs. Roy also admitted that she was taking the children to a pool that didn't have a certified lifeguard.
In each case, it appears Mrs. Roy cooperated with investigators, at least to the extent that the investigators felt no suspension was required.
My review of these records shows that from 1998-2008, there were apparently no substantiated violations, which may explain why the hearing officer found that the March 2008 incident in the bathroom was an isolated case of neglect.
Now, it appears the final verdict will come in January when Mrs. Roy will have her revocation hearing.
If she wins, the case is probably over and she will keep her daycare. If she loses, she could have her husband take over the business and apply for the license and still keep Bows and Bullfrogs open. Either way, it looks like the daycare will probably stay open.
How can you get the most detailed information on daycares in your area?
You can get copies of sanitation inspection reports and substantiated complaints for each licensed daycare operator. You should include the name of the facility, its address and your return address. It will probably take 2-3 weeks to get the information and it's possible you won't have to pay for the copies, especially if you limit the request to only a few daycares and mention that you are a parent collecting information about local daycares.
Here's the contact information for Missouri daycare records:
Division of Regulation and Licensure
Department of Health and Senior Services
3418 Knipp Dr. Suite F
Jefferson City, MO 65109
Fax: (573) 522-1473
The state of Missouri plans to post brief inspection reports on its website in January, but you should request the more detailed records through the mail. You can also call and ask to review them in person, then copy the records of your choice. That way you can get the information much sooner.
Here's the contact information for Illinois daycare records:
DCFS Office of Communications
JRTC, 6th Floor
100 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
FOIA requests can also be faxed to: 312-814-7092.
There are no daycare inspection reports on the Illinois state website.
Daycare inspection reports can reveal many details about a facility, but there's no substitute for visiting daycare centers, talking with staff and parents, and stopping by unannounced during a busy time to see what's happening and how the staff deals with it.
When you look at the records, you should focus on systemic problems like poor supervision and children wandering away from the facility more than once. If the owner, director or staff repeatedly show little respect for daycare regulations, that's also a red flag, even if you think some of those violations aren't significant.
If you do your homework, both through visits and by researching the center's history with state regulators, you should greatly reduce your risk of putting your child in the middle of a daycare nightmare.