BOISE -- A simple online search through day care data uncovered interesting data: Dozens of day cares in the Treasure Valley have failed multiple health inspections.
Boise has stricter codes than requirements set by state law, so more day cares are licensed in the city. Out of 332 total registered child cares in Boise: A third did not pass their last unannounced yearly on-site inspection.
Looking deeper, around 15% have not passed on-site inspection since 2008, when the data becomes available. Those day cares corrected their violations within days or weeks, according to health department information, but then those day cares failed their next yearly inspection. KTVB investigated to see what's going on with local child care.
Day cares that have repeatedly failed
1-Acre Day Care is the first child care listed in Boise's list of licensed child care facilities that are inspected each year by the Central District Health Department. It's also the first KTVB noticed as having never passed an on-site inspection within the data period available (the last four years of inspections). On the day KTVB collected data (1/5/12), 12 other child care facilities fell into the same category.
"It looks like you're consistently not following recommendations of the health or state regarding taking care of children. And that's not true at all. That's just not true," 1-Acre Day Care owner Pam Wells said when KTVB presented her with the data gathered.
Until this story, Wells had never seen the website that lists inspections and whether child cares have passed or not, along with the category of violation. She was upset by what she saw, and believes the way her day care is listed online may be costing her business. She says she hasn't been getting phone calls from parents interested in her daycare.
Violations found: Flies, feces, and clutter
The CDHD website only lists the categories a daycare has a violation in. To find out what the specific problems were, KTVB requested Wells' detailed file, along with the 12 others we identified as routinely failing initial inspections.
Wells had few violations, some of which were immediately corrected. For example, her day care was written up for the way a disinfectant bottle was labeled, and the most common violation of not having proper immunization records immediately available to the inspector. All of her violations were quickly corrected, some on site.
These are examples of other violations we found in other day care files: 'An unusual amount of flies', 'rug under bird cage soiled with food and feces', an 'out of town male guest' who wasn't background checked, and 'substantial clutter and two sinks full of dirty dishes'.
These are some of the improvements inspectors suggested: 'install safety latches on the knife drawer', and 'clean the bedding and guinea pig droppings from the room the baby sleeps'. One facility had a notice of a critical violation for not fixing an immunization records violation by the time specified.
How inspections are conducted
"The point of the inspection is to help the provider keep the kids safe," Tom Schmalz, CDHD Child Care Program Manager, said.
Schmalz oversees health inspections for the Central District Health Department. The inspections are just one part of how day cares get and keep their licenses from the Department of Health and Welfare. Licensed child cares get one unannounced, yearly inspection. Day cares receiving state money must also pass inspections.
"If we do an inspection and all items are in compliance, or if items that are marked out of compliance are corrected on the spot, then we identify it was corrected on site, and we do send a copy of the inspection to the agency that is involved in the permitting process," Schmalz said. "If there is a violation marked out of compliance and it cannot be corrected immediately, then we will mark the inspection as not passed until that gets corrected."
Schmalz says depending on the type of violation, the child care would get a set amount of time to get the issues corrected. If there is an immediate safety or health threat, CDHD can ask the center to close until that threat is gone.
Corrections are often self-reported
In many of the cases KTVB looked at, child cares have only passed inspections when conducted "off-site". CDHD explains in those cases caregivers fill out a "violation correction report" and submit it to the inspectors.
"The provider has to explain how that item has been corrected, and then that comes back to the health department. The health inspector reviews it, decides whether or not further follow up is needed," Schmalz said. "There is a level of trust. A lot of these providers have been in the business for a long time."
Boise's failure rate doesn't shock inspectors
When asked, Schmalz explained that he is not shocked by the 33% failure rate of Boise day cares. The system is pass/fail, and there is no partial compliance. If a daycare doesn't have everything on a 29-point checklist in order, the daycare center fails.
"It doesn't surprise me because there's so many things to look at," Schmalz said. "All those 29 items, if any one of those are out of compliance, they won't pass inspection...'There's a lot of rules and they really changed a lot in the last couple of years."
The recent changes come because of legislation passed in the last few years, much of the legislation was sponsored and supported by Senator Tim Corder (R-Mountain Home).
"This was a very contentious process to make the changes we made." Senator Tim Corder (R-Mountain Home) said.
Day care horror story: Babies put into cubby holes
When Corder took aim at day care regulations, he says laws hadn't been updated in nearly two decades.
The old law didn't even require a working telephone on the premises!" Corder said.
Corder's interest in reform peaked with this unbelievable story he heard from a firefighter who inspected a Treasure Valley daycare:
"He noticed these cubby holes, and they had doors on them," Corder said. "He asked the operator of the day care facility, he asked them, well what are those cubby holes for? And he was told, that's where we put the babies... While he's on the phone, a young mother brings in her baby... opens the door, puts her baby in the cubby hole, closes the door and turns around and walks out. I was so flabbergasted."
"When you hear things like that story, where it wasn't the kind of abuse that anybody would have reported to anyone. It was simply that we accommodated that as a state," Corder said.
Idaho ranks last in child care oversight and regulations
Each year, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies scores states on their child care requirements and oversight. Even after changes made over the last few years, for 2011, Idaho's statewide ranking still sits well below every other state. Idaho comes in last.
The rankings are based on different areas like how often child cares are inspected, staff ratios, and staff education.
Corder cautions that some of the rankings include early childhood education requirements and not just daycare requirements, and that some cities would rank better.
"They look at the wrong criteria in my view, so they don't give us credit for the things we've changed," Corder said.
Day care owner: 'I think they're strict enough'
Little Pooh's is another day care KTVB identified as having not passed any on-site inspections in four years. Owner Angela Pope knew she'd been failing, but says getting violations helps her know what to fix. She also says as a home day care provider, she can't keep up.
Many of Pope's violations, like having an unfenced pond in her front yard, came as the result of recent law changes. She claims some of her other violations, like smoking on the property and having dog droppings in her yard, come with being a small, in-home provider.
"It's things like that that really basically have to be kept up with every day, all day long and sometimes that gets pushed aside to take care of the kids," Pope said.
How can you know what's going on at a child care?
Check easy-to-access online databases like the Central District Health Department's, but Schmalz says parents need to do even more.
"Pick facilities and go to them, and spend some time at the facility. Because parents are looking for different things." Schmalz said. "A parent should do additional research, not just make a choice based on the information on the website, because a lot of child care providers that we inspect are going to have a violation of some kind. I mean we have lots of things to look at. As long as it's been corrected, they're meeting the minimum standards."
Schmalz also suggests calling 2-1-1 for help deciding on a child care, or take a look at the Idaho Stars website for other ideas on where to go. CDHD says parents may also call to get detailed information on specific violations - information like what KTVB requested on providers.
More regulations could be coming
As for Idaho's regulations, Senator Corder says more needs to be done. His next mission is to crackdown on rural day cares that he says can hide under the regulatory radar.
"If you have a person who has a tendency to be a child abuser, and you pass a law in a city like Boise that has a pretty good day care licensing law, and now that person can no longer take care of kids because that center would require a background check, that person might know they couldn't pass a background check... where do they go? They just go outside the city limits. So in some ways, we're still facilitating that. Because we don't require, as long as you stay in that four or five kids, then the background check is almost voluntary," Corder said.
Corder plans to wait a couple years to go back with more legislation. He wants to see what problems are still out there and collect new data with the new rules already in place.
"I suspect changes will be made. Where we stand now is much better than where we were five years ago. Much better. And we should be proud of that. But we shouldn't stop there," Corder said.
Resources for parents and providers