CHILD CARE HORROR STORIES
These are not the horror
stories you might expect, the tabloid style stories about sub-standard
child care and frightening nannies. These are the UNTOLD stories of child
care providers in jeopardy, abuses by the government, questionable Child
Protection Services, troubling Day Care Licensing actions, and the ever
Many of these stories are re-tellings
of amazing and unpleasant personal experiences from 35+ years providing
child care. The rest are stories of other care providers. This special
area of our web page is editorial in nature, the stories are from memory
and old records, re-told as accurately as possible.
While 100% accuracy and
cannot be guaranteed, the stories are of great interest and importance
and must be told. After over 35 years as a licensed child care
provider, I feel that our government, at every level, is the greatest
obstacle to an adequate supply of quality child care.
Our First Story: Child Care Licensing vs. Child Care
The main character in this horror
story was a child care provider for many years. Although she has given
permission to me to tell her story, I will refer to her as Sarah, to protect
Sarah's Punishment: Sarah's child care home was closed by day care licensing using
a procedure called "Immediate Suspension", their strongest possible action
reserved for those cases where the Commissioner of human services determines
that the children are in "imminent danger".
What danger threatened the children?
What was Sarah's crime? She was accused of having opinions about children's
Sarah had fired an employee for scolding and punishing children
who touched their privates during diaper changing. The angy ex-employee
complained about Sarah to child protection, who came out to interview
Sarah defended the use of anatomically correct terms for children's body parts. She
noted that many children are curious about sex, and that normal young children
may sneak a peek at the private parts of another child.
Also, Sarah admitted that one boy grabbed a pencil with his
butt cheeks, while the other kids laughed. While this activity was completely stopped by the child
care provider, she did not later consider it to be serious or an
example of child sexual abuse.
Sarah admitted that she routinely
allowed both boy and girl preschoolers and toddlers to sleep in the same
room at nap time. (Nearly all child care providers do this). Sarah also
admitted that she taught a child who is being pestered for unwanted kisses
to say "No, leave me alone!"
This last "crime" was given special
attention by Hennepin County prosecuters. One preschool
child was trying to kiss another preschool child who did not wish to be
kissed. Sarah admitted to investigators that she taught the second child
to say "No!" if she did not wish to be kissed. The investigating child
protection team found this teaching to be illegal and dangerous because
"16 is the Age of Consent".
In other words Sarah must not teach
a young child to say "No" for herself because the child is under the "Age
of Consent"! Ironically, child care providers are told in our approved
child care training classes that we should teach children to say
"No". We are encouraged to help children say "No" for themselves. But the
County Child Protection Team says we are committing a crime if we do so.
historical footnote: the leader of the Hennepin County's team of
prosecutors -- the people who hounded Sarah out of business -- was in
2009 convicted of running a prostitution ring, importing undocumented
non-English speaking women and selling them to wealthy Minnesota men!
No kidding! A major front page story in the Star Tribune news.)
The events that followed Sarah's
suspension were even stranger and more troubling than her "Immediate Suspension".
Sarah's child care clients (the
parents) were totally loyal to her during the crises. They wrote letters
to Child Protection and to Day Care Licensing, they held meetings, they
gave Sarah money for her attorney's fees.
Several of the parents tried
and again to give evidence to Child Care Licensing and Child Protection on Sarah's behalf.
Child care licensing refused again and again to listen to these
parents. They also
refused to speak to Sarah herself.
Your author was personally
present at a large community meeting held to complain to the Minnesota
Commissioner of Human Services. We heard the Assistant Commissioner tell
us that all this parent support was "suspicious". The department felt that
strong parent support on behalf of a child care provider suggested collusion or a
conspirency between the provider and the parents: he suspected a conspiracy
to abuse the children and conceal the abuse.
Later on the
of Human services told Sarah and her attorney, that he is "unimpressed"
when he receives a large stack of letters defending a child care
who is under suspicion. He said that too much community support makes
him suspicious. The Commissioner told this to Sarah in the presence of
Sarah won a series of
extremely expensive court challenges to her licensing suspension, but
she was never able to get her family child care license reinstated.
Many years later she was still black listed: not allowed to work as a
child care provider or as an employee in a child care home.
Our Second Story: National Life Safety Code vs. Child Care Homes
In the mid-1980's fire inspectors in Minnesota began to enforce a
strict interpretation of the National Life Safety Code on licensed
child care homes, specifically on homes applying for a new or renewed license.
The effect was to make every licensed child care home in Minnesota, about 16,000 homes, illegal and out of compliance.
The code required that any child care home which served or could
legally serve more than six children must met the E-3 Educational
Occupancy Standards, meaning the same building code as a school. That
is not possible for any family home.
Under the rules of the Life Safety Fire Code, the E-3 would apply to
any child care home with six or more children plus homes which could
serve six or more children. Even the smallest home license allows up to
ten children when you include school-age children. Thus 100% of all
licensed homes had become illegal.
E-3 requires fully enclosed stairways, so no split level homes would be
allowed; a one hour fire rating between each floor of the
house, so that the floors cannot be wood; a self closing
fire door between the kitchen and the rest of the home; no child
care allowed in the kitchen; a one hour fire rating on every
closet of the house, including the closet doors, walls, ceiling and
E-3 also requires the signature of a licensed architect confirming
compliance with the code; off street parking for clients;
and a turnaround driveway (such as the arc seen in front of hospital
and public school entrances.
The battle with the Department of Public Safety and State and local
Building Inspectors (who enforce building codes) was tremendous.
Hundreds of child care homes were prevented from renewing their
licenses. The city of Minneapolis stopped issuing new family child care
licenses, and quit issuing re-newed licenses to child care providers who moved.
The fire inspector who visited our child care home told us that his
mother had stayed home with him and his siblings, and he felt that
current mothers needed to be forced to stay home by closing the day
Early in this crises, hoping to
stay open and viable, we applied for a building permit to add a
code-compliant, ground-level playroom to the back of our Minneapolis
child care home. The building inspector who came to our home refused to
grant a building permit. She acknowledged that the addition was
excellent, but she could not issue the permit because "the rest of the
house does not meet the E-3 standards".
We next offered to upgrade the entire house to meet
the E-3, asking
what we needed to do. The inspector laughed at us and told us that we
need to tear the house down and start over again. Then she laughed
again and told us that would actually not help either. The inspector
explained that she would not approve a construction permit even if we
offered to replace the whole house, because "any house which meets the
building code for a school would not be permitted in a residential
neighborhood under the zoning laws".
That encounter made us realize that for home-based child care to
survive in Minnesota, we would need to change the law, redefining all
licensed child care homes as normal R-2 residential occupancies. We
spent two years and nearly a quarter of our income working to change
the law. Hundreds of child care providers, parents, legislators,
legislative aids, and fire and building inspectors were involved.
Our first efforts involved an entire summer of meetings with
representatives of the State Department of Public Safety and the
Minnesota Legislature. Our goal was to develop special additional
requirements for licensed child care homes, more stringent than the
existing R-2 but not impossible as is the E-3.
The meetings with the building and fire inspectors
seemed to be successful, everyone agreeing to strong new compromise
regs for licensed child care homes. These meetings were supervised by
the Minnesota Legislature. Unfortunately, the building inspectors
betrayed us. They broke their agreement to implement the new code, as
agreed, and the Department of Public Safety suggested that we try to
change the National Life Safety Code at the next national meeting, a few years in the future, too late to save the family day care homes of Minnesota.
When the legislature stepped in with a bill to permanently
change the building code and save family child care, thebuilding
inspectors lied in their testimony before the joint legislative
committee. Inspectors denied that the E-3 code for schools was a
problem for licensed child care homes. Fortunately, one high ranking
official had earlier helped the child care providers find the relevant
parts of the Life Safety Code in Minnesota code books, so we were ready.
At the critical meeting the child care providers passed
out copies of the important pages from the inspectors own code books.
Legislators understood the problem, and supported the chilod care
providers and the parents we serve. The building code was changed to
declare that all licensed child care homes in Minnesota would be
treated as R-2 occupancy and must meet the same fire and building codes
as ordinary family homes.
Teh news media did
cover the stroy, but most peole in Minnesota never knew that we coame
close to losing over 150,000 child care slots.
Story Number Three: Minneapolis Providers versus the Zoning Inspector
In the early 1980's one Minneapolis building inspector
decided that the larger family child care homes must be limited to 10
children, according to Minneapolis zoning laws, meaning that the school
age children would be kicked out of home day care. He decided that the
zoning laws superceded the child care licenses which allowed up to 14
children, and the inspector visited dozens of day care homes, kicking
out hundreds of school age children.
Eventually, he came to our our licensed child care home, telling us that we must immediately
cut back to ten children. We would have to kick out kids who had been
in our day care home since infancy, and we would have to dissolve our
business partnership as the smaller size day care business would not
support two people.
As it happened, the former
president of the Minneapolis City Council was one of our day care
clients. He told us that the zoning inspector was mistaken in his
interpretation of the zoning laws. We asked the inspector to give us
ten days to apply to the city council for a varience. He refused.
The Minneapolis Zoning Inspector, knowing that these
children had been in our day care home for as long as ten years, was
unwilling to give us ten days to go through the appeal process to ask
for a varience. As if that were not bad enough, the story gets even
... To be continued ...
M&M Child Care
| Index Family Child Care Page |
My Life as a Child Care Provider |
Myths of Maltreatment |
on Provider Vulnerability |
Essays on Child Care
Last revised on October 8, 2006.