By Katharine Mieszkowski & Jennifer LaFleur.
Children’s Cottage, an infant and child care center in California’s Napa County, has been cited with nearly 200 violations in the past 10 years.
State inspectors found that a 22-month-old child at the privately run facility was left alone. The state also has cited the center for having too many children and too few teachers. On the playground, children have pulled down their pants and touched each others’ genitals. The state is now trying to shut down Children’s Cottage, which runs an infant center and a child care center on the same campus.
The details of these types of violations long have remained stuffed away in obscure regional offices across California, leaving parents in the dark on child care. But parents in Napa and Santa Clara counties now can find out online whether the facilities they entrust with their children have had violations and complaints against them.
For months, The Center for Investigative Reporting and NBC Bay Area have been trying to put the state’s records online to make them easily accessible for parents, but the state has said it would take at least two years and more than $20,000 to provide the records electronically.
So CIR and NBC have begun gathering records for Bay Area day cares by scanning thousands of paper documents in regional offices and digitizing them. Rather than waiting until we’ve completed every county to publish them, we’re releasing the records in batches as we get them.
Type the name of the day care or preschool you’re curious about into the search bar to see public records for the last 10 years. The reports include details about any violations the child care center received, either during a routine inspection or in response to a complaint.
You’ll see two categories of violations. Type A is for the most serious violations, which by California law pose an immediate threat to the health, safety or personal rights of children. Type B violations could become a threat to children if not corrected.
The documents include narratives written by inspectors about what they saw when they visited, why they cited a facility for a violation and any fine they imposed. The records also show how a day care responded to the problems and what it did to fix them.
Records for smaller in-home day care facilities aren’t included yet.
In Napa County, the most common serious violation was for leaving detergents or medications accessible to children. Serious violations in Santa Clara County included a Saratoga preschool that fed a peanut butter sandwich to a child with a known peanut allergy. The school called 911, and the child was taken to the hospital. At a Montessori preschool in San Jose, staff threatened children that the police would be called if they did not nap.
Ray Welch, owner of Children’s Cottage, said in an interview that the day care has been in business for 25 years and has taken care of thousands of kids. “The bottom line is that no serious harm has come to a child at Children’s Cottage,” he said.
Its facilities have received dozens of violations that the state considers serious, including children running in a parking lot unsupervised and an infant sustaining bruises and scratches from other children.
The majority of other states already make this type of information available to the public online. California’s Department of Social Services has been under pressure since 2006 from the state auditor to make these records more readily available.
In February, the director of the Department of Social Services promised to post some limited data this spring. That has not happened yet.
A bill in the Assembly would force the agency to make more extensive records available online. But last week it stalled, after the Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated the bill would cost $700,000 a year to implement.
“As long as we’re collecting the information, why aren’t we putting it online?” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Downey. “This information is already coming into the agency.”
The Department of Social Services still has plans to put up some information before summer. It now plans to offer five years of inspection and complaint information. But the agency will not provide the records themselves. It will post only the number of violations and the type – A or B – and won’t give specific details about what infractions occurred. Type A violations can range from leaving firearms accessible to children to failing to change dirty diapers regularly.
But some state lawmakers think more should be done.
“As a working mom, I was appalled to learn that we couldn’t already go online and find substantiated complaints that have been made against day care centers,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
“We need to empower parents to make the best decisions they can when they’re entrusting the care of their children over to a day care center.”
Originally posted at the Center for Investigative Reporting.