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I-Team: How Safe Is Your Child’s Day Care, Part 3

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A CBS4 I-Team investigation into South Florida’s day cares has prompted thousands of viewers to go on-line to search our web site for safety records.

Florida Department of Children and Family officials say they welcome the scrutiny.

But they also admit that holes remain in a system that allows day cares with a troubled history of violating basic safety rules to remain open and continue caring for children.

I-Team investigator Stephen Stock has the latest in his series, watching those who watch our children.

I-Team Links
Florida DCF Website
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care, Part 2
I-Team: Day Care Investigation Findings
Search the CBS4.com Day Care Database

Listen to their stories.

“There were rats in there with the kids,” said DCF day care inspector Nigel Wright.

Imagine what they see in their jobs nearly every day.

“The whole ceiling to the back had caved in,” said Ian Fleary, a supervisor of several day care inspectors with the Miami-Dade office of Florida’s Department of Children and Families.

“There were exposed electrical wires everywhere,” Fleary said.

These stories come from the people who man the front lines in the effort to keep children safe in day cares throughout South Florida.

“You go in and you see too many infants with just one teacher,” said DCF day care inspector Dora Betancourt. “That’s a big violation.”

“As I moved one of the paper, the pack of paper plates, here comes a roach,” Nigel Wright said as he described one of the more disturbing violations he found at a day care recently.

I-Team Links
Florida DCF Website
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care, Part 2
I-Team: Day Care Investigation Findings
Search the CBS4.com Day Care Database

Wright has been inspecting day cares for two years now. While some people might consider Wright and his colleagues as tough when they inspect, they say they’re watchdogs.

“Ultimately you have to look at the safety of the children is our utmost responsibility,” Wright said. “We’re concerned about “Are the children safe?””

A six month long investigation by the CBS4 I-Team raised questions about the safety of many children in dozens of day cares throughout South Florida.

The I-Team compiled every inspection record covering a two year period for every day care in our area then used a computer to crunch the numbers.

The CBS4 I-Team discovered:
Though 222 day cares had a perfect record or zero violations.
The rest, 1136 day cares in South Florida had at least one violation.

Okay, everybody makes a mistake now and then.

But our investigation found 40 day cares had 30 or more violations.

17 day cares had 40 or more violations.

And 11 South Florida day cares had more than 50 violations in a two year time period.

I-Team Links
Florida DCF Website
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care, Part 2
I-Team: Day Care Investigation Findings
Search the CBS4.com Day Care Database

“It (those numbers) bothers me because again we’re asking you to give the minimum,” said another DCF supervisor in Miami-Dade, Jeffrey Hurst.
“So if you’re going to take on that responsibility of taking care of kids it should be a safe environment it should be clean, everybody’s background should be checked.”

But until the CBS4 I-Team investigation, even those who regulate these day cares had not done what we did: track with computer data analysis the day cares that compiled records with the most trouble complying with the rules.

I-Team Investigator Stephen Stock asked a top DCF official about this.
“How does a day care get that many and how does it stay open under those circumstances?” Stock asked.

Suzette Frazier, the day care safety program manager for the Miami-Dade office of DCF explained.

“A day care can get a number of violations based on series of events,” Frazier said to answer Stock’s question. “A particular category (of violations) can have 10 sub-categories and that’s how that number can rise up to 56 and 72 (violations).”

The I-Team discovered that many day cares repeat the same violations time and time again.

These are violations that in some cases could lead to the injury or death of a child if not corrected.

I-Team Links
Florida DCF Website
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care
I-Team: How Safe Is Your Day Care, Part 2
I-Team: Day Care Investigation Findings
Search the CBS4.com Day Care Database

After the I-Team shared the results of our investigation and the numbers of repeat offenders with DCF, its top administrator here in South Florida vowed to continue to make day cares more accountable.

“I think you can actually develop policies and actually we’ve even actually talked about it,” DCF regional director Alan Abramowitz said. “If you can close it, a facility, we’ve actually talked about this internally; we’re going to close it unless there’s a reason not to.”

But until this summer, state law prevented DCF from taking such steps to close down a day care without a long drawn out process.

“Now we can take action, we can close down child care that is not meeting the standard,” Abramowitz said.

Even so, DCF officials say they have only closed three day cares recently. Although with the numbers of day cares carrying records with such high number of violations that we found, DCF officials say the number of day cares they close could now increase.

You can find an interactive map of all licensed day cares in South Florida by clicking on the link that accompanies this story.

There you can click on any licensed day care and find its inspection history as reflected in public records from the state of Florida and Broward County (Broward County inspectors review day cares there instead of State DCF inspectors.)

By clicking on the icon or typing in a day care’s name you can find its inspection history dating from August, 2006, through September 30, 2008.

You can also go to the state of Florida’s DCF web site.There you can find individual inspection records for each day (by name) posted in .pdf form. 
(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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