(Memphis) Choosing quality child care is a critical decision.
Working parents have to decide where to send their children based on a number of factors including location, price, and overall quality.
Many parents visit centers before enrolling their children, but that may not be enough.
The On Your Side Investigators spent the past year researching day care fines and violations. We reviewed files for 31 day cares that had been fined for violations from 2010-2012.
We learned the biggest violators tend to be repeat offenders, so we questioned state regulators.
What's worse is that parents may not even know about it.
"I do so much to protect my own kids," said Memphis resident Shyronda Williams.
So, like any parent, she expected the same from her children's day care.
"You got kids' life in your hands and you supposed to be extra careful," said Williams.
Her children, 5-year-old Marcell and 4-year-old Shayrod, were in a van from Taylor's Learning Academy when it flipped on Feb. 1, 2013.
According to the accident report, the uninsured driver hit a curb then a pole.
Marcell and Shayrod weren't in safety seats.
Williams says while her kids' physical wounds have healed, the emotional ones have not.
"When they're staying up late at night I say, all night crying, hollering, barely sleep."
It wasn't the first time transportation problems had come up at Taylor's.
"She would call and say the day care van won't be running this week, you know, you got to find them a way back and forth," explained Williams of how she would often get calls from the center about the transportation being down.
Similar issues are outlined in complaints and evaluations that WREG obtained through open records.
However, Taylor's didn't face violations until after the accident.
The Department of Human Services, which oversees child care licensing in Tennessee, suspended its transportation.
Williams said, "I feel like she should have been cited, somebody should have been notified earlier."
Joyce Turner is the interim director of Child Care Services for DHS. She said evaluators thoroughly investigate each complaint.
"We interview teachers, we interview parents, we can pull a parent's files," said Turner.
Proving them valid though, is sometimes difficult.
The On Your Side Investigators also discovered the person who ran the day care, Delilah Taylor, owned another, Shauna's Learning Academy, that was denied a license after repeated violations including transportation and supervision.
Taylor's Learning Academy was in her husband's name, Charles Taylor.
I asked Turner, "How does the Department not connect the dots?"
"I can't tell you how did we, didn't connect the dots, how we should have connected the dots, but I would really need to look at these two," replied Turner during our interview.
A spokesperson later admitted things may have been "missed" and says this example could be used "to educate staff on more in-depth investigative methods."
However, problems at one day care don't legally prevent someone from running another, an answer that's still not good enough for parents like Williams.
"You just leave from one problem, try to run to another one, you're constantly covering up stuff," Williams said.
The issues at Taylor's also reveal a bigger pattern of problems with local day cares.
Our investigation revealed facilties cutting corners, breaking the rules and putting children's lives at risk.
"What does it take, to flat out shut a place down?" I ask Turner.
Turner said, "It would mean that the children are in imminent risk of harm or injury, it would mean that those children are at risk at that time."
That almost happened at LifeTime Fitness.
It didn't do a proper background check on a now former employee, Anthony Webster.
Police arrested him for allegedly sexually assaulting kids at the day care.
Instead, the facility got probation and the highest fine we found at $30,000.
In fact, failure to conduct a proper background check is one of the violations we saw the most.
For example, at Cyntrell's House of Learning, the owner hired her mom under someone else's name so she'd clear screenings.
Most violations fell into two other categories: transportation and supervision.
At North Memphis Learning Academy, a child was left on a bus and nobody noticed until his mom came to pick him up.
A driver at Kingdom Hearts dropped a child off at school before it was even open.
A little girl walked out of New Glory and was found wandering blocks away after two workers were left to watch more than 40 kids.
A child at Learn 'N' Play took at knife to school, cut one kid and threatened another.
The agency was already on probation.
"If they are repeat offenders, then we have action we can take against them," said Turner.
However, it may not be a big enough deterrent.
An evaluator even noted "unstable/shaky" equipment in classrooms four months prior.
I asked Turner, "So, do you think you guys take enough action against some of these places?"
She replied, "I can't say if we take enough action or if we don't take enough, but I think each, it's case by case."
We also questioned why parents may not be aware of violations.
Probations require a posted notice, and if a day care has been hit with a civil penalty, it's listed on the agency's report card, but in very, small print.
Some states put day care violations online.
Turner said they're in the process of deciding how to do that.
However, she couldn't give us a time frame for when that might begin.
"What would we put out there, what would be useful, user friendly information for parents," said Turner.
What's currently online may not be the best guide either. Users see one, two or three stars for Tennessee day cares participating in the Star Quality Program.
Turner explains, "It means this program has gone beyond licensing standards to try to improve the quality of their program."
Which means a participating day care, no matter the star, faces tougher standards.
However, a facility's star rating doesn't necessarily equal quality care.
Some of the violators we found had two, even three stars. In some cases, they were re-certified and given a high star rating just months after a civil penalty.
Turner's response was, "Well, sometimes bad things happen to good agencies."
Taylor's Learning Academy had yet to be rated, because it was still a fairly, new center.
Shortly after the accident, it shut its doors, and Williams hasn't heard from anyone since.
She contacted a lawyer.
"He told me we can't get a day in court because she's constantly running."
Little Marcel and Shayrod didn't go back to a day care.
"I had to really focus on them, you never know when a day might be their last."
Here's a list of other day cares that faced violations in 2012:
|Major Violators (2012 only)|
|Bright Futures Child Care Center||Probation||Staff|
|Busy Feet Family Day Home||Probation||Records|
|Buttons and Bows Learning Academy||Probation||Supervision, Records , Facilities|
|Dama Little Folk's Child Care Cnter||Probation||Supervision/Staff|
|Edna's Precious Ones||Probation||Supervision/Staff|
|Jessie Mahan Center Mississipi Blvd Site||Civil Penalty||Transportation|
|Klassy Kids Academy # 2||Suspension - Entire Agency||Supervision|
|LA PETITE ACADEMY @ WALNUT BEND||Probation||Improper Discipline|
|Learn & Grow FCCC||Suspension - Entire Agency||Background Check|
|MRS NELL'S HOME DAYCARE||Probation||Supervision|
|Sharing God's Love||Probation||**No probation, cont. monitoring|
|Shauna's Learning Academy, LLC||Denial of License||Transportation|
|Twinkle Little Stars FCCH||Probation||Supervision|
|Young Achievers Learning Academy||Civil Penalty||Staff (2), Food|
|A New Beginning Child Care||Citation Issued||Food (2) Health & Safety, Records (2)|
|ABUNDANT FAITH CHILD DEV CTR||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|All My Children Learning Academy ,Inc||Citation Issued||Administration|
|All My Children Learning Academy ,Inc||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Angel Child Development Center||Citation Issued||Health And Safety|
|Around the Clock Learning Ctr 2||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Augusta's Learning Journey||Citation Issued||Records|
|Building Blocks Child Day Care, INC.||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Buttons and Bows Learning Academy||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|C J'S Learning Academy||Citation Issued||Records, Supervision|
|Children's Discovery Learning Center Inc||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Crawford's Kiddie Care FDH||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Education Station Child Care Home||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Excellent Performance Child Care Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Future Leaders Learning Center II||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|G.G.'S ANGELS CHILD CARE CENTER||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Giant Steps FDH||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Grace Christian Learning Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Great Adventure Child Care Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|HAPPY TIMES CCC||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Helping Hands Enrichment Center||Denial of License||Staff , Supervision (2), Transportation (2)|
|JOANN'S KIDS LEARNING ACADEMY||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Kiddie Kingdom Learning Center||Citation Issued||Health And Safety, Records|
|Kiddie Land Learning Center||Citation Issued||Physical Facilities/Plant (2), Records, Supervision (2)|
|Kids "R" Kids Learning Center||Citation Issued||Administration (2), Transportation|
|Kids First Enrichment Center||Citation Issued||Safety Requirements, Supervision (2)|
|Klassy Kids Academy # 2||Summary Suspension||Supervision|
|Klassy Kids Academy #3||Citation Issued||Supervision (2)|
|Klassy Kids Academy #5||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|La Petite Academy @ Poplar View Pkwy||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|LaPetite Academy @ Meadowvale||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Le-Sueur's Learning Center||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Le-Sueur's Multi-Purpose Learning Ctr||Citation Issued||Equipment For Children, Food, Physical Facilities/Plant, Supervision (2)|
|Let Us Be Kids||Citation Issued||Staff , Supervision|
|Little Tenderonis Family Day Home||Citation Issued||Records|
|Louise's Learning Tree Day Care Ctr. #2||Citation Issued||Physical Facilities/Plant|
|Loving Hands And Hearts Learning Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Lullabyes and Learning Tymes||Citation Issued||Records|
|Minnie's Learning Academy||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Nana's Rocking Rhyme Learning Ctr||Citation Issued||Supervision (2)|
|Nat Buring Orange Mound Learning Center||Citation Issued||Transportation|
|Premier Kids Enrichment Center||Citation Issued||Physical Facilities/Plant|
|Scott Home Learning Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|TENDER HEARTS LEARNING CENTER||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|The Noah's Ark Christian Learning Center||Citation Issued||Supervision|
|Toddlers to Scholars||Citation Issued||Administration|
|Toys Treasure Island FCCH||Citation Issued||Staff|
|United to Win Christian Learning FDH||Citation Issued||Administration|
|Wee Wisdom Learning & Enrichment DCC||Citation Issued||Physical Facilities/Plant (2)|
|YMCA @MILLINGTON ELEM B/A SCHOOL CARE||Citation Issued||Supervision|