April 7, 2012

Kiddie Land owner says compliance designation needs closer look

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

DALTON — The owner of a Chatsworth day care state officials said had rule violations in 2010 and 2011 said the “non-compliant” designation doesn’t tell the whole story.

“I’m probably one of the tip-top shape ones that are clean, neat,” said Cindy Burgess, the owner of Kiddie Land Preschool.

The center was one of three local day cares listed as being out of compliance during any of the last four years in a report for Whitfield and Murray counties the state Department of Early Care and Learning prepared for The Daily Citizen. The report was intended to localize a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation on day care centers that had been out of compliance in any of the past four years.

Representatives from the other two centers, The Sunshine House and Creative Kids Day Care, said in an earlier story in The Daily Citizen that they’re addressing the findings. Burgess said Friday there is much more to her center’s “non-compliant” designation than the report suggests.

State officials said they couldn’t immediately respond to a same-day request to supply the actual inspection reports for Kiddie Land. Less-detailed reports on the department’s website, www.decal.ga.gov, provide some information.

Burgess said the concerns that put her on the non-compliant list were fixed right away. They include chipped paint on playground toys, which were painted over. An extension cord left out on the playground — for Christmas lights — was plugged in only when children were not outside, she said, but was considered a rule violation anyhow. The center was also faulted for having a diaper table pad that had stitching on it, and therefore wasn’t completely non-porous.

“We don’t even have to have diaper pads, so we took it and threw it in the Dumpster,” Burgess said. “We had it for comfort for the kids, but we have (since) replaced it with a slick one.”

Kiddie Land was listed as not compliant for the two fiscal years spanning July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011, state officials said, but Burgess said the center was actually non-compliant only for two months during that time because follow-up visits showed no findings. Centers are deemed “non-compliant” for an entire year even if they fix problems found in inspection visits right away, Assistant Commissioner Kay Hellwig said. State records show the center is in compliance so far this year, but no center’s designation will be final until after June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Reports at www.decal.ga.gov show there are numerous other local day cares that have had recent infractions, such as failure to conduct criminal background checks before hiring or for incomplete staff training.

Day cares are tagged as being “non-compliant” if they don’t meet or only partially meet even one of several core standards, officials said. Those standards cover rules for diapering areas and practices, discipline, field trips, hygiene, infant sleeping safety requirements, medications, physical plant (hazards), playgrounds, staff to child ratios, supervision, swimming pools and water-related activities and transportation.

“Speaking for myself, out of the five years I’ve been over here, I have not put any child in danger,” Burgess said.

Still, Reg Griffin, a spokesman for the Department of Early Care and Learning, said Kiddie Land was definitely “non-compliant for FY2010 and FY2011.” Day cares may have different kinds of infractions throughout the year, but they’re only tagged as being non-compliant if a year-end review of every inspection visit shows they have one or more severe or several minor violations.

Griffin said the reporting system isn’t designed to unnecessarily target centers. He said department officials try to strike a balance between closing centers for any infraction and not cracking down at all.

“The goal is not to interfere, but the top goal is safety and health of the children,” he said. “What might seem like a minor (infraction), we do put in (the report).”

Hellwig said it’s impossible to tell, just by looking at the inspection reports listed at www.decal.ga.gov, whether a center is in compliance. The reports do list violations, but they don’t indicate how the violations affect a center’s standing.

The state’s new Quality Rated system, set to be fully rolled out in 2013, will give community members a better at-a-glance idea of the quality of a center, officials said. Rather than just rating facilities “compliant” or “non-compliant,” the system will mimic the star system used for hotels.

Officials suggested parents look at the online reports to see what kinds of violations, if any, the inspections find, and determine whether that affects their decision on whether to use that child care center. Making their own surprise and scheduled visits and asking for parent references are other effective ways to evaluate programs, officials said.