by: Edward B. Mulligan V, Attorney
Since 2009, at least 22 children have died while in the custody of an Indiana-based day care. Of those 22 deaths, 16 occurred in unlicensed day cares. And those are just the reported deaths; the actual number is likely higher as deaths occurring in unlicensed day cares often go unreported.
One of these deaths occurred on January 4, 2013, in an in-home day care run by Stacey Cox and her daughter in Carmel, Indiana. That morning, Cox placed a 5-month-old boy in a portable crib and left him unattended. The boy was later found dead. Later that day, both Cox and her daughter tested positive for marijuana.
In the months prior, Cox had received several warnings from state investigators about caring for more than 5 children at a time, which is illegal for unlicensed day cares like hers. Many of the parents were reportedly unaware that the day care was unlicensed. It was also reported that multiple sleeping children would often be left unattended in the home’s basement. The state has since closed this day care and Cox was charged, found guilty, and sentenced to 2 ½ years in jail. This story underscores the importance of conducting a thorough interview and investigation before entrusting the safety of your child to an in-home day care.
To minimize the risk that something like this could happen to your family, you need to ask the following questions before selecting a day care for your child:
1. Is the in-home day care licensed with the state of Indiana?
2. Have the employees of the in-home daycare received any training?
3. What is the child-to-adult ratio?
4. Is the in-home day care insured?
5. Have there ever been any prior accidents or injuries at the day care involving other children?
1. Is the In-Home Day Care Licensed with the State of Indiana? Indiana law requires that a day care supervising more than five children have a license. A license means, among other things, that the day care workers have undergone training, including first aid and CPR certification, and have not been convicted or charged with a felony or misdemeanor relating to the health and safety of children. It also means that the state has conducted a criminal history and sex offender registry check on the owner and others living in the home and inspected the home to ensure that it is safe for children. Each license identifies the approved location, duration, and maximum number of children the day care can supervise.
So, ask to see the license, make sure it is current, and check the number of children the day care is allowed to supervise at any given time. Also ask to see the indoor and outdoor areas where your child will be supervised and when the last time the home was inspected by the state. If the caregiver claims the license is “unavailable,” that is a red flag as state law requires that a day care license be “publicly” displayed in the home. Day cares which have not been “licensed” means there are no guarantees as to caregiver training, criminal history, or home safety. Remember, if the day care supervises more than 5 children (unrelated to the caregiver) and does not have a license, they are breaking the law. The bottom line is this: if a day care owner cannot or will not show you their state-issued license, there is a reason, and you should take your child elsewhere.
2. Have the Employees of the In-Home Day Care Received any Training? As the Cox case demonstrates, training on proper feeding, supervision, and sleeping practices are critical to the safety of your child. State law requires that day care workers undergo fire prevention and safety procedure training within one (1) week of hire and first aid and annual CPR certification. Licensed day cares are also required to maintain documentation demonstrating that safety training been completed. Ask about the types of training that has been completed and consider asking to see the documentation as well.
3. What Is the Child-to-Adult Ratio? State law requires that children attending a day care shall not be left unattended and shall be supervised at all times. This question bears on the ability of the day care to comply with this state law, particularly when your child is asleep. In homes where the children are 24 months or younger, the maximum state-allowed ratio is 6:1. However, this ratio can be as low as 4:1 if five (5) or more of the children are less than 16 months of age. Ask how many children the day care supervises, including children of the day care owner, and their ages. Verify this number on the license. Ask how many employees will be supervising the children and how many of them are over 18 years of age. Ask which employee(s) will be responsible for monitoring your child. Ask to be shown where your child will take naps. Finally, ask who will be monitoring your child while he or she sleeps.
4. Is the In-Home Day Care Business Insured? While the owner of an in-home day care may carry homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance policies often exclude coverage for personal injury or bodily harm arising from business activities. In fact, some policies specifically exclude coverage for in-home day cares. This means that if your child is injured while at an uninsured day care, you will likely be stuck paying the medical bills, regardless of whether the day care is responsible for the injury. You can avoid this scenario by asking whether the day care is insured and if the answer is “yes,” ask to see the policy.
5. Have There Ever Been any Prior Accidents or Injuries at the Day Care? If the answer to this question is “yes,” ask follow-ups like: What happened? How was the child injured? Who was monitoring the child at the time? How badly was the child injured? Did the day care (or its insurance company) pay for any medical expenses? Did you inform other parents about the injury? Did you report this incident to the appropriate state agencies? What steps have you taken to avoid accidents in the future? That said, if the answer is “yes,” particularly if the injuries were significant or deadly, move onto the next day care on your list.
If the answer to this question is “no,” do not take their word for it. As the Cox case unfortunately demonstrates, not all day care owners respond to this question honestly. Do your own internet research. If the day care is licensed, you can search for it on the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration database located online. There, you can search by county or city for licensed child cares. For each day care you can find out information about past inspections, complaints, and state enforcement actions. If the day care you are considering does not show up, it is not licensed by the state. You should also conduct your own internet search for the name of the day care, the day care owner, and any employees. We recommend that you start your search for a licensed day care on the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration’s Paths to Quality online resource.
The bottom line is this: before you entrust the safety of your child to any day care, in-home or otherwise, take the time to ask these important questions and ask the day care owner to provide the documentation to back it up.