Surprise Childcare Audits Reveal Horrifying Risks
Despite recent efforts to tighten oversight, childcare facilities continue to expose children to a wide assortment of health and safety risks.
Childcare Audit Findings
According to NBC News, a report released recently by the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed some shocking information following their investigation into commercial day-care centers and in-home providers.
Conducted from September 2013 through March of 2015 in nine states and Puerto Rico, the audits were intended to ascertain whether states were ensuring that providers who received federal childcare subsidies were in compliance. Investigators found that a devastating 96 percent of the 227 locations that auditors visited were in violation of at least one state safety or health regulation.
Many had multiple infractions, including seemingly apparent safety hazards such as rusty nails protruding from wood, dog feces within play areas, unlocked liquor cabinets within reach of kids, and disgustingly unsanitary restroom facilities. But the most alarming discovery, according to George Nedder, the acting deputy regional inspector general who led the investigation, was the sheer number of people with access to the children who had never undergone the required criminal background checks.
“We found 186 people who lacked a criminal records check either caring for children directly or present in the facility — in one case, living in the basement of a child-care provider,” Nedder stated.
What Led to the Poor Findings?
Prior to the audit, federal regulators had hoped to see improvement following a 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act, which provides the subsidies given to the care providers.
In 2015, the federal government spent approximately $5.4 billion on these subsidies, which help care for nearly 1.5 million children from low-income families, so that these parents will be able to work or attend school. While an HHS website devoted to the Act declares it promised significant changes to safeguard the health and safety of children in childcare facilities, Congress failed to provide sufficient funding to meet their stated goals. The effect of that shortage is apparent in the HHS report.
Another telling example of the lack can be seen in the ratio of childcare facilities to site inspectors in the states who reported it. Child Care Aware of America, a childcare quality standards advocate, recommends one inspector for every 50 providers. Yet in Pennsylvania there is only one inspector to every 143 facilities. Connecticut is even worse, with only one for every 322 facilities.
Nedder also said that some states can create situations which further set the children at risk. Louisiana, for example, only requires the State Fire Marshal to perform an annual inspection-a single inspection which covers only fire safety and sanitation standards.
According to a state report, other important matters, such as criminal background checks, are basically self-certified and unverified. Those caring for the children could be anyone-a sweet grandmother or a hardened criminal…who can say for sure when no effort is made to look into their background.
What Should Parents Do?
Nedder advises parents to make multiple visits to potential childcare providers prior to enrolling their children, and recommends contacting the state regulator or searching online to see if the provider has received any complaints.
Unfortunately, at this point parents will need to be very proactive in finding a suitable provider to ensure their child is in the best and safest environment. Nedder suggests the OIG’s website and ChildCare Aware’s online resources to aid parents in this pursuit.