INDIANAPOLIS - A Call 6 analysis of disciplinary actions and inspection records reveals some child care providers stay open despite repeat violations for issues such as unsupervised children, inadequate staffing and missing paperwork.
Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney requested a year’s worth of disciplinary actions from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and received a box full of documents.
The documents showed the state agency cited many for many health and safety issues, but Kenney found shutting down a child care provider is not easy an easy process.
For example, a February 2013 letter to Kids-X-Clusive at 3807 W. Michigan St. in Indianapolis, notified the facility that FSSA was taking action to revoke its license after repeated violations, such as unsupervised children, missing records, mixing children of different age groups and not having a qualified director on site.
Kids-X-Clusive was placed on probation Oct. 1, but Kenney found by Jan. 1, 2014, Kids-X-Clusive was taken off probation and issued a regular license.
Probationary licenses are issued for a set period of time, and when the probationary license expires, FSSA has the option of issuing another six-month probationary license if there are still concerns, reinstate a regular license, revoke the license, or issue a new license.
"In this case the issues that prompted a probationary license were resolved and the regular license was reinstated," said Melanie Brizzi, child care administrator at the FSSA Bureau of Child Care, in an email.
Management at Kids-X-Clusive did not return Kenney's request for comment.
Kenney asked Brizzi why child care providers can stay open despite repeated health and safety concerns.
"Our goal is not to shut providers down," she said. "Our goal is to make sure providers are operating in compliance with the law. Families are not served by closing down child care facilities for minor violations."
Licensed homes and centers are inspected once a year. Registered ministries are inspected twice a year. FSSA also goes out to on complaints and follow-up visits.
Brizzi explained child care providers are given an opportunity to make corrections, and if they are put on probation, they're visited once a month for the term of their probation.
Indiana statute allows for providers to have up to two probations in a row, Brizzi said.
"If they cannot complete compliance by that time, then we do revoke their license," said Brizzi. "We also have the ability to revoke a license without a probationary period in instances that are more severe, or we can do an emergency closure."
An emergency closure is limited to items such as building structural damage, backflow of sewage, or a rodent infestation.
Providers also have the right to an appeal process and can stay open during that process.
FSSA revoked eight licenses for homes and centers in 2013, 20 licenses in 2012 and 13 licenses in 2011.
The latest available data shows 592 centers, 2,805 homes and 652 ministries currently operating in Indiana.
Licensed homes and centers have to follow the most state regulations, such as child staff ratios. Registered ministries, which are unlicensed, have far fewer safety regulations they must follow.
State inspectors can cite a licensed center and licensed home for not supervising children, but they can't cite a registered ministry for supervision.
Kenney found that sometimes, even a judge's order isn’t enough to close a day care in Indiana.
In December 2013, a judge ordered Kid Co in Greenwood to lose its license after repeated health and safety violations, but it is still open after changing owners and changing the name to Smiley’s Early Learning Center.
Kenney stopped by Smiley's and asked to speak with the new owner, Sherita Newbern, but she would not come out to talk.
"It's not a good time," said a worker. "It's not that she's not willing. We're just busy."
In an emailed statement, Newbern said she was working to correct problems at the center.
"We are doing our best to improve the quality of care and education being provided to our families without interruption of services," said Newbern in an email to Kenney. "As you may well know, more than 80 percent of the families we service are low-income. It was my hopes that we could get the job done and not have to shut down the facility."
Shortly after opening under the new owners, the state cited Kid Co/Smiley's Early Learning Center after a day care bus crashed in the parking lot with children on board.
In Fishers, Home Away from Home day care is still operating despite a toddler dying in a baby gate while in the owners’ care in June 2013.
The FSSA Bureau of Child Care cited Home Away from Home for lack of supervision the day the child died.
FSSA inspectors also found Home Away From Home was not meeting proper child-to-staff ratio requirements, and the state issued a probationary license on July 1.
Inspectors returned July 16 and found the same violations, including two infants in "pack and plays behind a closed door."
"They were not meeting the supervision requirement of leaving the doors open," read the FSSA document. "On this day there were four children under 16 months of age and one over 24 months inside with Mrs. Wahl while the other seven children were outside with Mr. Wahl. This would have required two staff inside the home with the five children."
FSSA is taking action to revoke the license for Home Away from Home day care.
The Wahls are appealing the license revocation and are allowed to keep the facility open during the appeal process.
In another example, Little Angels in Greenwood was allowed to stay open after a child was left alone on a day care bus and a person with a substantiated case of sexual abuse was found inside the day care on several occasions.
The registered ministry reached an agreement with FSSA.
"He is no longer allowed anywhere near the facility," said Brizzi. "They are in the process of becoming licensed and are in the process of becoming a licensed center. They’ve taken a lot of steps to make sure nothing else occurs there."
Little Angels’ management declined to comment for this story.
You can look up your day care’s inspection record at FSSA’s Carefinder website.
Friday at 11 p.m. on RTV6, the Call 6 Investigators dig into unlicensed home day cares. You’ll hear from a family whose baby died at an illegally operating home day care and what they want you to learn from their son’s death.