Bobby Cagle knew he wanted to make some changes when he took the helm of the state Department of Early Childcare and Learning that oversees Georgia’s preschools and day cares, he said.
Centers that in the past weren’t compliant because of any of several infractions that could range from rusty playground equipment to children being unsupervised have been put on notice to get their acts together, he said. He said state policy allows for escalating sanctions ranging from “support” to help centers comply to fines of various levels to actually closing them down.
“Our goal is health and safety,” Cagle said in a recent interview. “I’m not going to be satisfied until we’ve got every single center in the state compliant.”
A recent investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found the state paid at least $355 million in subsidies over the past four years to day cares that didn’t meet standards for child care. Three local day cares — Creative Kids Day Care in Rocky Face, Kiddie Land Preschool in Chatsworth and The Sunshine House in Dalton — were found to be out of compliance in one or more recent surprise inspections over the past couple of years, department spokesman Reg Griffin said, but none of the centers received those subsidies.
Recent inspection reports for every registered day care are available at www.decal.ga.gov. Still, according to some providers, the inspections, usually done twice a year, don’t tell the whole story.
Creative Kids owner LeAnn King said some of the infractions that earned the center a non-compliant designation came about because the inspectors changed the rules mid-game. For example, King said a previous inspector had told center employees to put cleaning supplies up high, but another inspector said they had to be behind closed doors.
“It’s like a non-consistent thing with them,” she said.
Then there were claims on the report that the center wasn’t compliant because not enough adults were supervising children. King said that happened only because a relative who works at the center had temporarily stepped into another room when the inspector was passing through.
“We normally have the right ratios,” she said. “She had just gone out of the room temporarily. Other than that, our ratios have been good.”
Creative Kids has been in business for 10 years, King said.
A woman who answered the phone at The Sunshine House said questions must be directed to the day care chain’s corporate office. Spokesman Barbra Anderson said the company strives for “100 percent compliance and continuous improvement.” Reports show inspectors found the center was out of compliance or only partially met standards in some areas, including a child not being supervised, not enough staff for the number of children, diaper cream being accessible to small children and an active ant bed.
“If there is a gap in licensing compliance, we immediately address the situation with a complete and thorough investigation resulting in a comprehensive corrective action plan,” Anderson said. “The corrective action plan includes a thorough assessment of the citation, a critical review of all applicable internal processes and procedures, retraining of center employees where applicable, and enhanced center oversight with additional monitoring visits and evaluations from our regulatory compliance department.
“We recognize that The Sunshine House in Dalton, Ga., has been cited for noncompliance. We take this issue very seriously. We are working diligently and proactively with center staff to ensure recurring issues are immediately resolved and that internal processes are being followed to ensure complete compliance moving forward.”
A message left at Kiddie Land Preschool wasn’t returned. That center’s reports showed inspectors recorded chipped paint and rust on some outdoor equipment, an extension cord seen across the play area, and a diaper pad that had a raised pattern instead of being smooth.
Cagle said he’s also working on a “Quality Rated” program at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal. The program, currently voluntary and not fully rolled out, allows centers to opt for additional accreditation. So far, Griffin said, about 400 day cares have applied. The Quality Rated reports won’t be available until 2013, he said.
Cagle likened the system to the star system used to rate hotels where five is the highest. He said there will be three levels of quality, and the system will continue to be voluntary.
Mary Thelma Norris of The Friendship House said the Quality Rated program seems similar to a national program Friendship House is a part of. The day care is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which requires a set of licensing, regulation and other criteria. Except for Friendship House and local Head Start programs, the Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center is the only other NAEYC-accredited facility in Whitfield and Murray counties, according to searches on the national center’s website, www.naeyc.org.
“NAEYC is continually raising the bar on us, too,” Norris said. “Any parent can ask at any time to see our last licensing report. It’s kind of like the restaurant reports that you see except ours aren’t posted.”