Home day cares present extra set of challenges

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE and JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 22, 2012 - 1:08 PM

More than 700 home daycares have been shut down since 2002 for violations ranging from drinking to domestic violence.

Child sex abuse and dangerous infant sleep practices, two hazards documented in an ongoing Star Tribune investigation, have prompted regulators to shut down dozens of licensed in-home day cares in Minnesota, but they are hardly the only violations that turn up in state licensing records.

The newspaper found 760 instances since 2002 when regulators closed down licensed home day cares, including cases where inspectors found providers sleeping or drinking on the job, physically abusing children, cramming too many children into their homes, and children wandering away because providers failed to monitor where they were.

Just last May, a child in a St. Paul home day care lost five toes after being run over by a riding lawn mower.

The suspensions are uncommon and don't necessarily reflect the quality of care provided by roughly 11,000 licensed home providers across the state.

But they do reveal a unique reality for in-home day care. Any environmental hazards or family problems present in the home can spill over into the day-care operation and place children at risk.

Since 2007, regulators have suspended the licenses of 13 providers because known sex offenders were living in their homes. In the past three years, 19 providers had their licenses suspended because of domestic altercations, some of which occurred in front of the day-care children, records show.

Fourteen cases of suspected criminal activity in the day-care home have resulted in suspensions since 2010. Just last year, there were two fights involving guns while children were in the day cares.

The problems in family child care are distinct from the challenges in larger child-care centers and underscore the need for constant supervision, said Jerry Kerber, the inspector general of the state Department of Human Services. Providers need to make sure children aren't getting into areas of the house that might have power tools or weapons, for example, or left alone with other household members who aren't approved caregivers.

"From our perspective, we need to do a better job to emphasize the need to supervise children," Kerber said. "Even five minutes, one minute -- it doesn't take long for these events to happen."

Supervision was a problem last May when the child in St. Paul was injured by a lawn mower. The provider had allowed children in her care to ride on the back of the lawn mower. One of the kids fell off and the adult operating the mower backed over the child's leg and foot. Doctors later amputated the child's injured toes.

State investigators faulted the provider and took away her license for serious maltreatment and failing to properly supervise children in her care. When the incident occurred, she was in a separate part of her yard gardening, records show.

In another case from earlier this year, a pair of children at a day-care home in Marshall, Minn., suffered injuries -- with at least one of the children suffering physical abuse -- over the course of months. And in Albert Lea last May, a trio of children arrived at their day-care home after school to find their provider missing. The provider later said she had forgotten the children would be in her care that day.

Two years earlier, the same provider had been cited for maltreatment when a toddler was found with an open bottle of bleach. Regulators had fined her $1,000 after that incident but allowed her to continue to operate until the incident this year, which led to her license being revoked.

Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report. Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777 Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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