A trio of child care centers licensed to serve more than a hundred children in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Apple Valley were shut down this week after state regulators discovered chronic safety violations and a scheme to falsify training records.
State investigators found more than 70 licensing violations at the three facilities operated by Deqo Family Centers. The violations included failure to follow safe sleep rules, failure to properly supervise children and failure to employ qualified staff. The company also failed to conduct criminal background checks on some employees and falsified records related to first aid and CPR training for employees.
The state on Tuesday issued a revocation order that will formally take effect July 8 unless the facilities appeal. The revocation order cited falsification of records and misleading information given to the state as troubling because they would make it “impossible” for regulators to rely on future assurances that the operator was following state licensing rules.
“They were out of compliance in some of the most serious areas of the regulations,” said Department of Human Services Inspector General Jerry Kerber.
“We really had no choice but take this action.”
Served Somali community
The company, which served many families in the Somali community, had been operating its Minneapolis location since December 2010 and its St. Paul center since September 2011, according to state records.
The Apple Valley location was licensed in January and had a capacity to care for 100 children, state records show.
A woman who answered the phone at the Apple Valley location on Friday would not offer her name and said the owner, Yasmin Ali, was unavailable. Efforts to reach Ali by e-mail and phone were unsuccessful.
The Apple Valley center, which backed up to 150th Street, was closed and locked Friday afternoon and no families using the facility could be reached.
License revocation is rare among Minnesota’s roughly 1,500 child care centers. Last year the state used the revocation order eight times. So far this year, there have been five revocations.
Kerber said his agency is trying to act swiftly when it finds chronic violators.
The agency wants to avoid prolonged cases like the one last year in which a Brooklyn Center child care facility with 50 complaints over eight years finally closed after years of effort by the state to shut it down.
“When these come up, we are proceeding with much more deliberate speed,” Kerber said.
The violations identified this week were not the first for Deqo.
A 2011 complaint at its Minneapolis center alleged that staff were beating children after they failed to learn the Qur’an. Investigators could find no evidence to confirm the allegation.
In May 2012, the Minneapolis facility was fined $1,200 after a series of violations involving failure to submit background checks on employees, according to state records.
It was fined last September for a similar violation, records show.
In January, the state investigated another allegation of abuse at the Minneapolis facility, but it was not substantiated.
Last June, state inspectors identified problems with the staff at the St. Paul location. One instructor failed to meet state education requirements and staffing levels were inadequate at certain times of the day.
The violations issued this week were the first licensing actions at the Apple Valley location.
Assistance payments cut off
Dakota County spokeswoman Gail Plewacki said the county swiftly stopped child care assistance payments to the facility when local officials learned of the state’s licensing action. “As soon as they deactivate we can no longer make payments,” she said. “That’s dictated by state law.”
Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul locations are shut down as of this week, according to state records.
In a letter dated June 20, Ali told her employees at Apple Valley they were being laid off because the center must close down “due to circumstances out of its control.”