WDAM Investigates: Cashing in on child care

Updated: Apr. 2, 2019 at 9:50 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For parents, child care centers are places of trust, where expectations are high when it comes to care and attention to detail.

“You want to make sure that your children are protected,” said Melissa Parker, director of licensure and certification at the Mississippi Department of Health.

When it comes to what’s happening inside those centers, Parker said those expectations, which the state calls regulations, play a big role.

“The regulations are there to protect those children. They’re there for a purpose and we want to make sure that these kids are safe,” Parker said.

WDAM dug through inspection records of day care centers all over the Pine Belt. While most did well, others are a different story.

One of them is in Forrest County. It hasn’t passed an inspection since November 2017. There were five inspections last year, most of them follow-ups to a failed one for license renewal.

In those latest reports, the center was cited for things like overcrowding, failing to post menu substitutions and not providing written reports for parents. In all of these areas, inspection reports show the center has been cited for these exact issues before. The center has even been hit with $1,050 in penalties since November 2017 for not following procedure.

"We want to give those centers an opportunity to come into compliance with regulations,” said Parker, when asked how child care centers continue to stay in operation after repeatedly failing inspections.

Even with failing inspections, the state allows centers to accept taxpayer money, given as a subsidy to parents who can’t afford child care. That money flows through the Department of Human Services, which twice denied our request for an interview, citing busy schedules.

WDAM wanted to know how much money these centers take in, so we emailed questions to department spokesman Dewitt Fortenberry on March 20. We were promised prompt responses, but after several follow up emails, as of the morning of April 4, our questions are still unanswered.

Another Forrest County day care failed an inspection back in October. Among the issues, no designated director on site and missing ceiling and floor tiles which were supposed to be replaced the month before. That same center was hit with $500 in penalties last year, partly because the center did not do a background check on an employee who was left alone with children, something the center was cited on before, in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

An inspection report shows not doing a background check was also part of the reason a child care center in Columbia failed back in November. That report shows the center also failed to follow nutritional standards, serving Cinnamon Toast Crunch and raisins instead of food from an approved menu.

While some findings may seem insignificant, Parker said regulations are in place for a reason and her office provides extensive training and there’s no excuse for child care center directors not meeting state standards.

While state agencies want to give child care centers time to come into compliance, that can lead to centers dragging their feet. Parker said the process of revoking a license takes time and she’d rather see those centers come into compliance.

“We try to make sure that for those facilities with continued compliance problems, that we’re visiting those centers more often," said Parker.

When it comes to deciding which child care center to use, Parker said parents need to do a little homework, look through inspection reports and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Click here to take a look at all the inspection reports and licensed child care centers.

“We have all the information that you need to make a very informed decision about where your child goes during the day,” said Parker.

Copyright 2019 WDAM. All rights reserved.