I-Team: State regulations designed to keep day cares safe for children

Question of Safety (WWMT)

The state of Michigan says there's no way of really knowing if all state-licensed, day-care facilities are reporting serious incidents involving our children, despite regulatory requirements to do so.

"I would say it's hard to know," said Mark Jansen, the Child Care Licensing Division director for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

"I want to trust everybody that they're doing it, and I can tell you that parents, if they know about it, most of the time they are going to say something to somebody. So I think that most of the time that happens," Jansen said. "I can't guarantee that every one of them are going to be reported."

Newschannel 3 interviewed Jansen after learning of an incident in Portage on Dec. 4, 2018.

A Newschannel 3 employee who witnessed the incident said a little girl ran out onto East Centre Avenue in Portage, just outside Little Tykes Learning Center. The witness told Newschannel 3 the girl was alone. A driver stopped traffic to protect the girl when, according to the witness, a worker with the day care came out to get her.

Newschannel 3 called and emailed Little Tykes Learning Center at least three times by phone and twice by email since early December for comment on the incident. Little Tykes did not respond to our requests for comment.

LARA confirmed the incident took place. LARA also said that Little Tykes Learning Center properly reported the incident to the agency within 24 hours, which is what the law requires. A review of state reports for Little Tykes shows that since 2006, the center has not been cited for any major violations.

Three parents who communicated with Newschannel 3 said they felt comfortable sending their children to the center, despite the investigation.

Jansen said reporting is key in knowing what's happening at Michigan's roughly 9,000 licensed day-care facilities.

"We often rely on folks who have seen something or heard something," Jansen said. "Then we proceed from there. Or, many times the providers self-report."

There are consequences for not reporting an incident, Jansen said. If it's proven the violation is severe enough, Jansen said, the state will shut down a day care.

"We have done that and it's because something very serious happened and we believe the safety of children is at risk," Jansen said. "We have to defend these children."

Jansen detailed the state's process for keeping child-care providers in check.

He said LARA employs 90 consultants. Each work with roughly 100 child-care providers, conducting annual inspections and special investigations when a complaint is filed.

"It is a challenge," Jansen said when asked if 90 consultants is enough to monitor all licensed child-care facilities.

Jansen said there is a reason his team members are called "consultants" and not "inspectors."

"They're called child-care licensing consultants. They'll come in and they'll have to say, 'Hey is there enough room in this building for the number of children that they want to have, is it a safe place,'" Jansen said.

The list of rules providers must follow is extensive, Jansen said, and it's easy for minor violations to pile up. That's why, Jansen said, his team takes a more educational approach when regulating.

"There's a lot there, and for providers that's one of our challenges," Jansen said. "That's why I encourage our consultants to be consultants, because they'll go and they'll visit, they'll do their inspection, and then they'll say, 'Hey, you should be thinking about this or thinking about that.'"

Jansen said just stripping a license away from a day-care facility due to a violation doesn't help the state overall.

He points to a shortage in day-care providers. Part of his mission, Jansen said, is to keep as many providers as possible.

"You know you try to find a very safe balance to where we're gonna help providers, but at the same time if they've done something wrong and there's something that we have to really process them on violations we're gonna do that, because it's the health and safety of children that's number one," Jansen said.

From November 2016 to October 2018, 106 Michigan licensed childcare providers had their licenses suspended, LARA refused to renew them, or had their licenses revoked as a result of violations.

Jansen said parents have the right to know about the violations their child's day care committed.

He said parents can search online for a list of violations.

Jansen also said each child-care facility is required to have what he calls a notebook that details all reports conducted on the facility. Parents can ask to see that notebook.

The state's main goal is the safety of our children in all of Michigan's licensed day-care facilities, Jansen said.

"I would bring my child to most of the licensed child cares here in the state of Michigan," Jansen said. "I think what I would do though is I would be double-checking."

He said parents can help protect their children by first researching the facilities they're considering. The state offers online resources for parents to look up licenses and violations.

LARA also encourages parents to review the state's Guide to Child Care Licensing.

For parents who have children in day-care centers and have concerns, the state will accept complaints. Jansen said each complaint is individually vetted, and if considered serious enough, a LARA consultant will visit the facility unannounced for an inspection.

People can submit complaints, online, by printing a complaint form and mailing it in, or by calling the state's toll-free complaint hotline 800-882-6006.

"We don't have enough staff to run around the whole state of Michigan to figure this out, so we rely on this reporting," Jansen said. "Just call and tell us and let us know."

Jansen said complaints can be submitted anonymously.

"We are there trying to do the best that we can with what we have, and I would say we get a lot a lot of folks who participate in that and that's very very helpful," Jansen said.

"There's literally no one that doesn't want kids in a healthy, safe environment," Jansen said, "and if they don't then they shouldn't be in this field."

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