Are Day Care Centers Any Safer?

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An investigation tonight into the agency that monitors New York City’s day care providers. A baby’s death exposed serious problems that the health department vowed to fix.


By Jim Hoffer

(New York- WABC, November 3, 2005) - An investigation tonight into the agency
that monitors New York City’s day care providers. A baby’s death exposed serious
problems that the health department vowed to fix.

The Investigators spent months examining whether the promised corrections have
been made. Eyewitness News’ Jim Hoffer is here.

We did find some improvements, but also some glaring problems.

We randomly selected those family day care providers with violations that posed
a serious risk to children. And what we found repeatedly was a failure by inspectors
to make sure the dangers were corrected.

Thomas Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner: “We do know we failed to do
our job as well as we should have.”

The death of infant Matthew Perilli more than a year ago exposed serious problems
with the city’s oversight of day care providers.

This scathing report found “inadequate post-inspection follow-up” to be among
the most dangerous flaws putting children at risk. The health commissioner promised
to fix it.

Frieden: “We’re taking a series of actions, we’re making sure every complaint
is followed-up, we’re making sure inspectors are appropriately trained.”

Haydie Maldonado: “I talked to them on the phone.”

Hoffer: “But they never came back for a follow up inspection?

Haydie: “No, no.”

But a year later, our investigation found follow-up inspections still not being
done, even when serious violations had been issued.

Hoffer: “Ms. Maldanaldo, why do you think the inspectors never came back to see
for themselves?”

Haydie: “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Hoffer: “It’s been almost 10 months now.”

Haydie: “I know.”

In a random check of 15 family day care providers, all with serious violations,
we found 60 percent of the time, it took on average six months for inspectors
to follow-up. Most alarming, in 40-percent of the cases, inspectors never came
back.

Hoffer: “When’s the last time you were inspected?”

Ms. Grenald: “In March.”

In March, day care inspectors found 12 violations, 3 serious at a Bronx day care
– including unsafe window barriers, unsafe storage of poisonous materials, and
uncovered radiators and pipes.

Hoffer: “You added this?”

Grenald: “Yeah.”

Hoffer: “And have they been back to check it?”

Grenald: “No they haven’t been back to check nothing.”

Melba Moore, day care provider: “She told me she’d be back in 30 days, she never
came back, never came back.”

Back in June, the inspector found 17 violations here. In fact, seven of those
serious included inadequate smoke detectors and unsafe windows. The day care provider
says she corrected all of them, and still awaits a follow-up.

Moore: “They’re supposed to come right back out to make sure the kids are not
in danger.”

Malinda Katz (D), NYC Council Member: “This whole system is dependent upon the
Department of Health following up on the violations, especially the serious violations
so parents can have confidence in the system to know that their children are safe.”

Councilwoman Malinda Katz says our investigation shows the health department
still has a long way to go to live up to its promise to make family day care safer.

Katz: “If the inspectors are not returning, my fear is that day care centers
might catch on and they may not clean up as quickly.”

The health department has lived up to its promise to improve initial inspections.
There are more day cares being inspected than ever before. And the continued failure
lies with follow-up inspections, children potentially put in dangerous situations
because serious violations go unchecked long past the 30 days mandated by the
health department. We asked the health commissioner about the problem.

Hoffer: “We found cases where window guards were part of violations, smoke detectors
and it took months to do a follow up.”

Commissioner Frieden: “If that’s the case , it’s wrong we look forward to information
and we’ll fix it.”

Hoffer: “Is there any case in which serious violations are given where six months
is adequate follow-up?”

Frieden: “I’m not sure what you’re defining as serious violations.”

Hoffer: “No, no your department defines as serious violations, every day care
provider we went to had several serious violations, I’m asking you is there any
case where a day care provider has a serious violation where six months is an
appropriate follow up?”

Frieden: “I don’t know what you’re defining as a serious violation because there’s
a complex set of state definitions which we follow. If there’s anyone that’s a
danger to life and safety it should be an immediate follow up and if we are not
doing that we’ll fix it.”

The question is, how long will it take to fix? 14 months after the death of Matthew
Perilli and the city has only 52 inspectors to oversee seven thousand day care
providers. Is it any wonder that many still fall through the cracks?

Hoffer: “They haven’t been back?”

Melba Moore: “No, I called her to come back when I repaired the violations, but
she never came back.”

The bureau of day care says it has re-trained inspectors and has made real progress
in improving follow-up inspections and believes it will be able to reduce any
backlog in the months ahead.

If you have a tip about this or any other investigative story, give our tip line
a call at 877-tip-news.

(Copyright 2005 WABC-TV)

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