Horror Image 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 popular IRS.

    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 completeness 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 her privacy.

    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 sexuality.

    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.

    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.

     (Astounding 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 again 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 Minnesota Commissioner of Human services told Sarah and her attorney, that he is "unimpressed" when he receives a large stack of letters defending a child care provider who is under suspicion. He said that too much community support makes him suspicious. The Commissioner told this to Sarah in the presence of her attorney.

    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 floors.

    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 care homes.

   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 would 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".

    Catch 22.

    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 worse.

... To be continued ...

Michael

M&M Child Care

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| Coalition on Provider Vulnerability | Essays on Child Care

Last revised on October 8, 2006.
MTK.