JEFFERSON CITY — Following videos showing child abuse in St. Louis day care facilities, Gov. Mike Parson announced the creation of the Safe and Quality Child Care Working Group to combat future abuse.
“One of the fundamental roles of government is to protect children and those who cannot protect themselves,” Parson said Monday. “After seeing the horrific video last week at the Brighter Day Care in St. Louis, I am determined that we can do more to hold people accountable and work to prevent future incidents from occurring.”
A video surfaced last week that showed a child who was grabbed by the arm and thrown, resulting in a head wound. Another video showing a day care “fight club” also went viral and led to an attorney general investigation, although it wasn’t discussed Monday.
The Department of Health and Senior Services issued a revocation of Brighter Day Care and Preschool’s provider license March 1. After multiple reports of abuse, Randall Williams, the department’s director, said this was determined to be a systemic issue in the facility, not an issue involving individual employees.
The new working group is made up of staff from the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the attorney general’s office.
Last year, the Department of Social Services received 930 child abuse and neglect cases against day care providers. Of these, 32 were substantiated, said Steve Corsi, director of the Department of Social Services.
Williams said the Department of Health and Senior Services is looking at changes, such as increasing the required number of training hours for day care workers and creating facility report cards. Currently, day care employees are required to complete 12 hours of training. Report cards are common in other states, Williams said. They would allow parents to know the standard of care by a provider before enrolling their child.
In June 2018, Parson signed House Bill 1350 into law, which requires a fingerprint screening and criminal background check from every child care staff member before they begin work. These rules went into effect in August 2018, with the goal of decreasing the likelihood of abuse in child care facilities.
The new Safe and Quality Child Care Working Group will meet to review current child care regulations and make recommendations by June 1.
Beyond the recommendations for day care facilities, the legislature is also working to reduce risk for children in unlicensed in-home child care facilities.
These are defined as a house or private location that offers child care for compensation. They do not include neighborhood babysitters, religious organizations or elementary schools.
Senate Bill 336 has two proposed solutions to address employee misconduct that puts children at risk: setting a safe number of allowed children and creating accountability for employees.
Currently, the maximum number of children allowed in a home child care facility is 10; however, this number doesn’t include children related to the homeowner or operator of the facility.
“State law allows family child care home providers to care for more children than is recommended by national fire safety codes,” Sen. Jill Schupp, the bill’s sponsor, said.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends one adult per six children, she said.
The current lack of a limit on the number of relatives in these facilities makes an already potentially dangerous situation worse, she said.
In terms of accountability for employees, violators currently receive an infraction, or petty offense, and a $200 fine. The proposed legislation calls for moving the penalty up to a class C misdemeanor and a $750 fine.
“When you opened your home for business — the business of caring for children — there is no room for overextension,” Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said. “Not being able to adequately serve your customers is not like selling an undercooked burger or measuring the length of plywood incorrectly. Not serving your customers when you open your home to child care can and does results in neglect, injury and horribly, even death.”
This legislation has been proposed before, but it didn’t pass. Schupp said she sponsored the bill because of a recommendation from Parson when he was lieutenant governor.
“A young mom in his Senate district had lost an infant in unlicensed in-home child care,” Schupp said. “I met with her and with him, something needed to be done. What would any of us do? What would any of us do or give to bring back one of those lost babies?”