AUSTIN -- Whether by choice or necessity, the National Center for Education Statistics found 57 percent of preschool children in the U.S. receive some type of care outside their home.
You count on those places to keep your kids safe. However the KVUE Defenders found a simple check being ignored by thousands of daycares.
Raeann Garza worries about finding a daycare for her two daughters.
"I want them to be safe," she said.
It’s a daunting task in a state with 24,000 daycares and only 228 inspectors.
"That is what child care licensing is about,” said Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson Julie Moodie. “To make sure the homes and centers are doing what they're supposed to be doing."
The Department of Family and Protective Services oversees all registered, licensed and listed homes and daycare centers.
"We work very hard making sure that we inspect the daycare centers and daycare homes when they're supposed to be inspected,” said Moody.
A federal study found Texas does a good job ensuring daycares are inspected regularly.
Inspection rules for Texas
By law licensed daycare centers and homes in Texas are required to be inspected every five to 12 months.
Registered homes, which can have no more than 12 children at any time, are required to be inspected every two years.
Home daycares with fewer than three children are supposed to be listed with the state, but they are never inspected unless someone reports a problem.
Parents learned that over the summer at a home daycare in Cedar Park. Police say 18-year-old Greg Kelley, an All-District Leander High School football player, was living at the home and acted inappropriately with two four-year-old children.
"We have two young four-year-old children who will be scarred for life as a result of this," said Cedar Park Police Chief Sean Mannix.
The state cited the owner for caring for too many children, abuse in an operation and failing to conduct background checks on all household members 14 years and older, as required by law.
"Whether or not a background check would have made a difference, you know. Probably not because there were no convictions," said Moody.
No one knows how many home daycares are going unregulated.
"If you can't find your home or center on the site, there could be a chance it is not registered or licensed with the state, and you need to let us know," said Moody.
Federal report finds background check problems
The KVUE Defenders found that even those daycares that are registered or licensed often ignore the laws designed to protect your kids.
A federal report released at the beginning of November looked at requirements in Texas, California, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. It found daycares in all five states had problems with background checks. Texas was the worst.
The report found one in five daycares failed to renew background checks or didn’t do them at all.
Texas has some of the strictest requirements, requiring background checks every two years.
But the state's own annual report found a lack of required background checks is the number one violation inspectors have found in each of the last two years.
"That worries me," said Garza.
The KVUE Defenders found daycares for three area school districts which failed to have some of those required background checks:
- San Marcos Child Development Center on Staples Road in 2012
- Round Rock ISD’s Child Development Center for Teens off Great Oaks Drive in 2010
- Sunset Valley Early Intervention Teaching Center (Austin ISD) off Jones Road in 2009 – which closed that year
- University of Texas' Child Development Center on Comal Street in 2011 and 2013, and the Child Development Center on San Jacinto in 2013
All of the centers did comply with the law after being cited.
"That's what you want to see is that a daycare provider has acted when it was determined they weren't doing something properly,” said Moody.
The state admits the inspection process isn't perfect.
"We're (The Department of Family and Protective Services) a civil agency so we can't really assess fines," said Moody.
Daycares get plenty of time to correct their problems.
"It actually is very difficult in the state of Texas to have your license or your registration revoked," said Moody.
The state revoked, denied or suspended 175 daycares statewide last year.
Plenty of law abiding daycares
There are places that live by the law. For the last eight years Nicole Perez has run the Pint Size Playhouse daycare out of her home in South Austin.
"I submit my background checks. It's $2 per person. It's not hard to do," said Perez.
The Pint Size Playhouse hasn't had a single violation in each of its last three inspections.
“I take it very seriously, not just the CPA business side of it, but the teaching side of it as well," she said.
Perez takes pride in the fact that her daycare doesn't have to be licensed, but as a parent herself she chooses to be. She feels that strongly about the process.
"Your caregiver really should be regulated," said Perez. "If they're not regulated with the state, either registered or licensed. There are no background checks, there are no education requirements. There aren't any emergency preparedness plans. The environment, although it may look safe, may not be."
It's good information for parents like Raeann Garza who have one simple request for a daycare.
"Some place so that I can go to work and work, and not worry about what's going on at daycare," said Garza.
What to look for online
You should be able to find inspection records for a day care online. If you can't it may be unregistered or unlicensed, and you should call the state. The state plans to hire more people next year to focus solely on investigating daycares not registered or licensed with the state.
When you find an inspection record, pay close attention to the violations considered high. Those are the violations that could or do put children in danger.
More tips for picking a daycare
Read the inspection reports on line. Pay close attention to the violations considered high. Those are the violations that could or do put children in danger.
Make several unannounced visits at all times throughout the day.
Ask a lot of questions. (i.e. how do they handle nap time, snack time, change a diaper?)
You can also see a list of the daycares that have the most violations in each of the last five years with the following links:
- Travis County: Top 10 violators in past five years
- Hays County: Top 10 violators in past five years
- Williamson County: Top 10 violators in past five years