WDAM Investigates: Cashing in on child care

Part II

WDAM Investigates: Cashing in on child care

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - There are almost 1,500 licensed child care centers in Mississippi. Most of them accept children who are part of the state’s subsidy program, a system paid for with tax dollars, mostly from the federal level, designed to help parents who can’t afford child care. With public money on the line, the state has to make sure child care centers are meeting some requirements though.

“You’re entrusting the care of your children to these folks and daycare centers, and we want them to understand that the regulations are there to protect those children," said Melissa Parker, director of licensure and certification at the Mississippi Department of Health, which is the state agency charged with inspecting child care centers.

Digging through inspection reports though, some child care centers in Mississippi can’t seem to follow those regulations. Even with repeated failing inspections, the state still allows those centers to accept the money.

“When we do an inspection on these facilities, that’s a snap shot of what we’re seeing that day,” Parker said.

Parker believes that snapshot is pretty consistent with other days. WDAM interviewed Parker back in late March about child care center inspections in Mississippi. Back in April, WDAM revealed how child care centers, including some in the Pine Belt, don’t have to pass those inspections to pull in some big money.

The Department of Human Services, a separate state agency, is in charge of handing out that money. We wanted to know why child care centers continue to get taxpayer money if they continue to fail state inspections, but the Department of Human Services continues to deny our requests for an interview.

It took us 48 days just to get numbers, showing how much money certain failing centers pull in.

One of those child care center’s is Anderson’s Educare Academy on Eatonville Road in Forrest County. According to inspection reports, the center hasn’t passed one since November 2017.

Failing reports include findings like over capacity, no written reports, food that doesn’t meet nutritional standards, not labeling baby bottles and adding cereal to baby formula without a doctor’s note. An inspection report from August 2018 even notified the owner of the risk of losing her license if regulations aren’t met.

According to numbers we got through a public records request, this day care center pulled in $85,590 in taxpayer money in 2018, despite not being able to pass an inspection that year. The center’s owner declined an interview.

It’s a similar story at First Start Academy, also called N.E.E.D.S., on Green Street in Hattiesburg. It’s only passed one of seven inspections within the past year.

Findings include not doing required criminal background checks on employees, not having a director on site and missing ceiling and floor tiles. Numbers from the Department of Human Services show this center pulled in $71,907.42 in taxpayer money for 2018.

The center was also hit with a violation from the state for not reporting a fight between a parent and two employees in March, which resulted in police being called. We spoke with the director by phone. She told us the center is working on correcting some issues.

When it comes to making sure child care centers stay in compliance, Parker said the state gives plenty of guidance and training and there’s no excuse for directors not to meet state standards. Even with repeated failing inspections, Parker said the state wants to give those child care centers an opportunity to come into compliance.

While her department is not in control of the money, Parker said she can recommend a license be pulled, but that takes time. Meanwhile, her department urges parents to do their research.

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

You can search child care inspection reports here.

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