Thursday, January 24, 2008

State audit suggests harsher penalties for illegal day cares

State audit suggests harsher penalties for illegal day cares

Published Saturday, January 19, 2008
KANSAS CITY (AP) - Missouri officials need to increase penalties against people who operate child day-care centers illegally, a new state audit says.

The report, released Thursday by Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee’s office, said it found instances where the state Department of Health and Senior Services responded to repeated complaints about unlicensed day care operators without prosecuting them or ensuring that they were complying with state law.

Offenders can be fined as much as $200 for a first violation, and subsequent violations are treated as Class A misdemeanors. But the audit said such low penalties have had little effect on some operators who mightmake $100 a week per child.

It also noted that surrounding states charge much higher fines, including Nebraska, which charges operators $5 per day for each child over capacity, and Kansas, with a fine of $500 per violation per day.

In a written response, the department said it was collecting information on substantiated cases against illegal child-care providers and would use that data to determine whether increased penalties are warranted.

The audit also criticized state laws that allow children related to the operators of home-based day-care centers to be exempt from many licensing regulations.

For example, they aren’t counted against the 10-child limit for family day-care home centers or the 20-child limit for group homes, potentially allowing child-care centers to become overcrowded.

Also, related children don’t show up in child discipline or illness records, exposing other children to increased risk of abuse or disease.

Department officials said they tried to count related children toward licensing requirements as part of a 2004 wholesale change of child-care regulations but public criticism led them to shelve the entire measure. They said they will introduce new licensing rules this year focused solely on the related-children issue.

Auditors also found problems with how long it takes the department to complete investigations into complaints and refer them for legal action. For example, a review of 2,722 complaints found that 42 percent of investigations weren’t completed within the required 30 days, and 2 percent weren’t completed within six months.

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