Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A child who attended a day care center in Ellsworth for two years was separated from other children the whole time.
More than 20 day care centers where questionable incidents occurred in the last few years were allowed to operate under conditional state licenses in 2013. The reports on those centers were obtained by the Portland Press Herald on Friday through a Freedom of Access Act request after allegations about the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool in Lyman – pictured above – surfaced.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Listen to a Department of Health and Human Services conference call including Director of Communications John Martins, Director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services Ken Albert, Portland Press Herald staff writer Edward D. Murphy and Journal Tribune staff writer Tammy Wells (43 minutes).
At a home-based day care in Fort Kent, a gun cabinet in a bedroom was left unlocked.
In Waterville, a woman who ran a day care in her basement often left the home, saying she was too stressed by the work. She left her husband – who laughingly called the day care room the “brat cave” – in charge, but he refused to change diapers, fearing it might lead to “allegations.”
Children at other day care centers were allowed to wander off, and in one case two toddlers were returned by drivers who saw them on the side of a busy road.
The 21 day care centers where those and similar incidents occurred in the last few years were allowed to operate under conditional state licenses in 2013. The reports on those centers were obtained by the Portland Press Herald on Friday through a Freedom of Access Act request to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The operators were expected to come into compliance with state rules, while caring for children, before the one-year licenses expired.
Parents were often in the dark about the conditional licenses. While notices of the change in license status and the investigators’ reports are supposed to be posted in public spaces at the centers, not all operators comply.
Four day care centers, including one that was operating under a conditional license from 2012, lost their conditional licenses last year when inspectors who did follow-up visits found that not enough violations were being corrected.
Two more were suspended on an emergency basis and the operators voluntarily surrendered their licenses – one who was found drunk and threatening suicide by a parent who arrived to pick up her child in August, and one whose husband was charged with sexually assaulting three of the children.
The incidents that prompted the DHHS to issue the conditional licenses were detailed in licensing inspections conducted in 2012 and 2013.
The reports reveal a wide range of violations, including the relatively mundane, such as record-keeping violations or failure to wash a baby’s hands after a diaper change. Many day care centers were found to be understaffed, or the operators and employees were cited for failing to keep up with training requirements.
Inspectors also found more serious problems, though few at the level of those cited at the Sunshine Child Care & Preschool in Lyman.
A report by inspectors, written in August and obtained last week, said co-owner Cheryl Dubois grabbed a child by the biceps and slammed him or her to the floor, pulled chairs out from under other children, and forced children to put soap in their mouths.
The report said Dubois created a “toxic” environment that was unsafe for children and employees, but the day care center was given a conditional license and operated until early this month, when so many parents removed their children that it was no longer financially viable.
VIOLATORS RELUCTANT TO TALK
The reports from the DHHS show that:
• In May, investigators put the Bright Beginnings Child Care Center in Houlton on a conditional license after staff members reported that the husband of owner Sharon Jackett would “ping” children by flicking them in the mouth with his index finger if they weren’t obeying.
Staff members said he also handled children roughly by pulling them off a bed by the arm or forcibly turning a child’s head.
• The owner of Watch Me Shine in Ellsworth kept the day care center open on days when there was no heat in the building and the temperature fell to 55 degrees, forcing children to wear their winter coats indoors.
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