Daycare Dangers: A Taking Action Investigation

(WHNT) – It’s one of the hardest decisions a parent must make and many parents don’t know where to begin.  Finding a daycare for your little one can be a grueling task, especially when it comes to asking the right questions.  

Child day care centers in Alabama legally operate in one of two ways: Licensed or license exempt.  All centers that require a license must be licensed by the Department of Human Resources and renewed every two years. The centers are also required to post their valid license, a current licensing evaluation and all fire and health department approvals.  And, all of this should be out in the open for you to see.

But, where can a parent go to find a list of all the substantiated complaints for local licensed daycare centers?  To be clear, we are talking about complaints investigated by DHR and found to be valid.  The answer to that gets a little murky.

WHNT News 19 is taking action for parents.  Over the course of two months, we’ve worked with the state’s DHR unit to gather a list of substantiated complaints in Madison, Morgan and Limestone counties.  This list covers an 18-month time period.  We also worked to gain a better understanding of the state’s licensing system as well as the standards to which Alabama daycare centers are held.

During our investigation, we learned that “substantiated complaints” should be something that any parent can readily get their hands on. 

DHR’s Public Information Manager Barry Spears told WHNT News 19, “Because all substantiated complaints concerning a child care facility are on record and available to anyone who requests them from DHR, there’s really no good reason for a center to conceal that information.”
 
We thought so too, and wanted to find out if that was the case.  Armed with a hidden camera, we sent in an undercover producer to ask questions any parent might ask to see if this public information would be readily available or disclosed.  We selected three daycares with violations raging from:

  • Rough or Harsh Handling
  • Verbal Abuse
  • Corporal/Physical Punishment
  • Staff/Child Ratio Issues
  • Physical Restraint
  • Injury Requiring Medical Attention

During our visits we clearly asked, “Have you received any complaints that DHR has investigated?”
 
In each instance, the daycare employees didn’t admit to any of the substantiated complaints we had confirmed with the state.
 
Additionally, we were never directed to a DHR Public Notice Form that all centers must post stating how someone may obtain these reports.  Keep in mind, not posting the public notice is a violation of the child care minimum standards.
 
We were unable to locate this form at two of our visits.  As for the third site, it was partially covered up by a poster.
 
Our findings are this:  Expecting your daycare to by transparent and up front with DHR substantiated complaints could be difficult.  That’s especially since there is no requirement for a center to post substantiated complaints or to provide them online.
 
Right now, the state uses a manual file system for deficiency reports and complaints.  We asked the state why they don’t have an electronic database to make these reports more easily accessible to the general public.

They told us the information is readily available upon request and current budgetary considerations do not support the design and implementation of such a system at this time.

So for now, WHNT is offering our findings to you.  We currently have substantiated complaints from Madison, Morgan and Limestone for the last 18 months. We are working to get all of the counties across the Tennessee Valley so you can make informed decisions on where to place your child.  Below is a link of that, along with other DHR-related information and phone numbers for parents to call and inquire about a particular center.  There is also a link to check and make sure your daycare is licensed.

Access DHR Substantiated Complaint Records for Madison, Morgan & Limestone Counties: (Date Range 01/01/2011 – 10/12/2012)

More DHR Childcare Resources
Department of Human Resources
Child Care Services Division
50 Ripley Street
Montgomery, AL 36130
Telephone number:
1-866-528-1694

Complaints regarding known or suspected violations of the Minimum Standards may be reported to the Department of Human Resources at the address and telephone number above.

Information regarding substantiated licensing complaints and violations of the Minimum Standards may be obtained from the Department of Human Resources at the address and telephone number above.

Click here to check if a daycare is licensed.


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