INDIANAPOLIS— Many parents are unaware of the difference between licensed, unlicensed and illegally operating child providers.
Nicole Norvell, director of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said it’s important for families to understand which type of child care they’re choosing.
“When you go into a child care, you need to be looking for a certificate that shows the state of Indiana has either licensed or registered that program,” said Norvell.
Licensed providers, such as licensed homes and centers, are required to complete safe sleep and CPR training, do criminal background checks, and follow proper child/staff ratios, to name a few.
In Indiana, you must have a license if you are watching six or more children unrelated to the provider.
A child care provider can be unlicensed and operating within the law, but only if they have five or fewer children in their care that are not related to the provider.
It is illegal for a child care provider to watch six or more children without a license, unless they qualify for an exemption.
Call 6 Investigates found between January 2017 and mid 2018 FSSA issued more than 50 cease and desist letters to suspected illegal child care facilities throughout the state.
If FSSA receives a complaint about a suspected illegal provider, they go out and inspect and then follow up.
“Our consultants are required to check once a quarter for the next three quarters, because sometimes they will stop operating and then start again,” said Norvell.
Call 6 Investigates followed up with several providers that received cease and desist letters, and found almost all had come into compliance by reducing the number of children or getting licensed.
“The process is working,” said Norvell. “We have families and community members who are reporting illegally operating child cares. We are working through that and hopefully getting them licensed or reducing the number of children.”
Norvell said their goal is not to shut down child care providers, but rather to help them.
“A lot of times we find the person is just unaware that’s what they’re doing,” said Norvell. “We try to educate them about how to become licensed. We certainly aren’t trying to make them stop children, but we just want them to be licensed and regulated.”
When a child care facility refuses to cooperate, FSSA can partner with the Indiana Attorney General’s office to file a civil lawsuit.
“The Attorney General’s office can file papers to legally make them stop, and they can be fined up to $100 a day,” said Norvell.
Norvell said while parents can seek recommendations on social media, they need to do their research from there.
- Check the state’s Child Care Finder website to see if the provider is licensed, their inspection history, including any violations.
- Check the state’s list of providers who’ve been cited for operating illegally.
If they are not licensed, make sure to ask about CPR and safe sleep training, criminal background checks on staff, child/staff ratios and how the children are supervised.
For example, ask how many children are in the facility and how many staff are present.
“The number of children versus the number of adults is really important because it’s very hard to keep an eye on them, especially young children, if you have one adult with 12 children in a child care home,” said Norvell.
“We just want children to be safe.”
“Come frequently and stop in at times when your provider may not think you’ll be coming,” said Norvell. “Have aunts and uncles or grandparents stop in. We know the more actively you’re involved in your child’s education, the better outcomes you’re going to see.”
Norvell said consider it a red flag if you’re not allowed in at certain times.
“Child care should always let parents in whenever it’s convenient for parents,” said Norvell. “They should not have policies in place the prohibit you from coming and visiting your child.”
You should also look to make sure the child care is using toys and equipment that is in good working condition, and that the toys are developmentally appropriate for the children.
Several children have died in recent years in day care settings, including incidents involving broken equipment.
Mazie Joan Valenta, age 1, died in 2016 after she stopped breathing at an unlicensed day care operated by Debbie Keyes after she strangled to death when her shirt got caught on a broken piece of the crib.
Conor Tilson, 5 months, died at an unlicensed Carmel day care in 2013 in a broken portable crib.
Taliah Brigham, 10 months, died in April 2016 after she was found incorrectly strapped into a car seat at a licensed Speedway child care provider.
Investigators said the daycare had one worker responsible for 36 children in three rooms.
In another case, baby Kyle Davis-Ferguson was found not breathing in 2017 inside an unlicensed child care home on Elmonte Court, and later died at a hospital.
FSSA said parents need to know the importance of choosing quality child care.
“Anytime you don’t have enough staff for the number of children, anytime you have staff that haven’t undergone basic CPR or first aid training, you certainly set up scenarios in which children can be injured,” said Norvell.
If you’re looking for child care, you can call the Child Care Answers State Hotline (1-800-272-2937), which can help you find licensed homes, centers and registered ministries that meet your financial needs.
Call 6 Investigates uncovered a child care provider is still watching children despite the state repeatedly citing her for operating illegally. A mother who unknowingly sent her daughter to the day care is sharing her story about the check she wishes she had done beforehand.
HOW TO CHECK A CHILD CARE FACILITY
• Plug in a provider's name to ChildCareFinder.IN.gov and look for complaints, inspection reports, and any pending enforcement
• Use your eyes and ears when visiting. Are they following safe sleep? Is equipment working? Are children strapped into their high chairs?
• Drop by the child's day care unexpectedly during the day. What is seen at pickup and drop off may be very different than what's happening during the middle of the day
• Ask to see the provider's license or registration, which should be posted in a public area. If the provider is on probation, it will say so on the license, along with the reasons why.
• Ask to see a copy of the day care's discipline policy. Corporal punishment is not illegal in the state of Indiana
• Ask what their current child-to-staff ratio is. Experts say accidents are more likely to happen when staffers are watching a lot of children.
• Ask if the provider is part of the state's voluntary rating system, called Paths to Quality. The state said this helps guarantee they're meeting and/or exceeding licensing requirements regardless of type of day care
• If you use an unlicensed facility, know they do not have to submit to background checks, CPR training, safe sleep training and other requirements. Ask to see proof your provider has completed these.