Wednesday, April 23, 2014
We should be praising the Department of Health and Human Services today for warning parents about what could have been a dangerous environment for their kids.
The agency followed up on complaints from parents and former employees and sent an inspector to the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool in Lyman. The inspector found that children had been manhandled, force fed and cursed at, and that required paperwork for children’s injuries was seldom filled out. According to witnesses, the center’s co-owner had been “abusive, humiliating and intimidating” to both children and staff, creating, in the investigator’s opinion, a “toxic and unsafe environment for children.”
But we are not praising the DHHS today, because we are confounded by its lack of timely action. That scathing report was finished in August, but the day care center continued to operate for another four months. The state kept the report from parents (unless they somehow guessed its existence and requested a copy). Meanwhile, the day care center continued to receive high ratings on the website the state uses to provide information to parents.
So not only were unsuspecting parents continuing to drop off their children at Sunshine without knowing about the investigation and its findings, but people shopping for a day care also had no clue that there might be a problem.
Sunshine’s owners dispute the report’s findings and conclusions and are hoping to have it overturned, but that doesn’t mean that parents should have been denied the information they needed to make good choices while the issues were being sorted out.
There was an easy way to fix this, and that would be posting investigation reports online where they can be seen by current and potential customers, the way most states do. If the day care operators want to tell customers their side of the story, fine. But the ultimate decision about whether children should keep coming to the day care center should be made by fully informed parents.
Instead, the state kept silent and — even worse — allowed a website to post outdated and incorrect information that could have misled parents into choosing to place a child there.
Regulators can’t be everywhere at once, but there is no excuse for failing to share public information when they have it. A DHHS spokesman said that department personnel have been looking into sharing day care inspection reports online before this incident. The looking should now be over. It’s past time to act.