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Schrade, Olson and Howatt were honored for a nine-month reporting series that began last spring after the paper published a story about a day care facility that was still operating despite a long history of regulatory problems.
“We wondered, ‘How could it take five years to shut this place down?’ ” said Schrade, 43, an investigative reporter at the Star Tribune since 2010.
Over the next several months, the reporters collected and examined hundreds of records on suspensions and deaths over the past decade involving the state’s licensed day-care facilities.
Investigating ‘alarming trend’
Those records revealed a sharp spike in deaths in recent years. On average, 10 infants were dying each year in licensed day-care facilities. Many of the deaths were linked to violations of basic state guidelines — covering either infant safe-sleep practices or child supervision ratios — and many were preventable.
“That just led to more questions,” Schrade said Monday. “We wanted to know ‘What’s going on in this system? Why are so many kids dying?’ ”
After the series was published, a state child mortality review panel examined 10 years of data and issued a report that found troubling safety breakdowns, including many deaths that involved sleeping infants who had been placed in unsafe sleep positions or environments. The agency proposed a series of safety improvements, including additional training and oversight, and vowed to bring them before the Legislature this session.
State and county regulators also stepped up enforcement, imposing more fines for providers who ignored safe-sleep practices, and increasing communication to the 11,000 in-home providers across the state.
Earlier this month, state officials issued a report saying the “alarming trend” of child-care deaths had been stalled, with just one death in the past eight months.
“I’m proud of the paper and I’m proud of the impact we’ve had in this area,” Schrade said Monday of the series, which was edited by Dave Hage. “There are a lot of parents and people who helped tell the story and were courageous about speaking about the most painful thing a parent can go through.”
The Star Tribune last won a Pulitzer in 1990 for a two-part series that exposed an industry profiting from arson and suspicious fires.
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425