WREG uncovers new day care violators, sparks lawmakers to push for change

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A sex offender transporting kids. A driver who made children urinate in a bottle so he could pass a drug test. Those are both incidents that occurred at Memphis day cares.

Those two violations happened at centers that are now closed. However, it doesn't always work that way.

In WREG's most recent investigation into violations at local child care centers, we found 45 centers that faced serious discipline, including fines, probation and license revocation.

News Channel 3 has long been sounding the alarm about day care centers that break the rules and now, two state lawmakers are pushing for change to assure children in Memphis receive high, quality care.

► Series: Day Care Dangers

When Jeremy Darby, a custodian at Ernestine Rivers Child Care Center was arrested in April , for having drugs and guns inside the day care, it wasn't the facility's first time facing trouble.

In fact, of the day care violations WREG recently reviewed, Ernestine Rivers paid the highest fine, $2500, for leaving a child on a van during a field trip in 2015.

News Channel 3 also found cases where criminals were caring for kids and where workers hit children.

There is even a center, which still has the highest possible rating from the state, that allowed three toddlers to wander miles away, and get picked up by strangers, who thankfully took them home.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson said, "When you have situations you know as egregious as some of the situations we've had, we've had with our care centers, you know we have to, as elected leaders, step up and start really, really working on solutions."

After a child was abducted from a day care in Frayser, and another was chemically burned after a worker sprayed his face with bleach earlier this year.

► Map: Shelby County Day Care Violations 

The News Channel 3 Investigators reached out to every legislator in the area via email.

Sen. Lee Harris' office was the first to respond.

He said, "Thanks a lot for your work on high quality child care.  There`s no doubt about it that we need to get the word out a little bit better."

Parkinson added,  "You know, it was your stories, that you`ve been doing in regards to some of the things that have been happening with our care centers. It was hearing from our constituents that also led us to this."

Parkinson and Harris are teaming up to host a child care town hall, Thursday, Sept. 28. It will be held at the Breath of Life Christian Center, at 3795 Frayser Raleigh Road, and begin at 5:30 p.m.

WREG is a sponsor of the event.

"I want to make sure that we educate our parents and others on how the star ratings work," said Parkinson when talking about discussion items.

News Channel 3 previously uncovered the fact that star ratings are separate from violations, so depending upon the rating alone can be confusing and even troubling for parents.

The family of the child who was chemically burned expressed frustration about this.

According to the Department of Human Services, "Star assessment visits are for the purposes of assessing program quality and it is a volunteer program for providers to participate in. Monitoring visits are for the purposes of assessing compliance with the childcare rules and regulations."

DHS says its recently updated information online about the star assessment program.

Also, while the state's website provides lot of valuable information, parents won't see serious discipline like probation and fines.

DHS spokesperson Sky Arnold said, "As the department upgrades the DHS website, we are planning on including these components in the future."

"That's what this town hall is about.   We're going to be bring state assets to the table, so they can inform the folks that attend about how to judge a high quality child care facility one from the other," said Senator Harris.

► Search for child care by county

In addition to a focus on how to find high, quality child care,  Senator Harris says he also wants to discuss affordability.

"In Memphis, it's about $400 a month on average, for child care, that`s about $4,800 a year.  That is a sizeable chunk of income for a whole lot of families."

Child care rates are even more expensive for infants. Parents can also expected a higher price depending on the day care, its location and services provided.

Both lawmakers say it's time for everyone involved to speak up for our children.

"I want to hear from parents, I want to hear from day care owners, and operators I want to hear from the state," said Rep. Parkinson.

Sen. Harris said,  "We've got to make sure we listen to folks about what the scope of the problem is, after that, I think there will be time enough to have a conversation about some of the solutions."