HOUSTON - Pam Mabry had rushed to her son’s day care, only to find him in a pool of blood.
“Not only on his face, but all over his clothes,” Mabry said. “And he’s sitting there kicking and screaming his feet.”
And what was the explanation for his injury?
“He took off running and ran into the door,” Mabry said the workers told her.
Mabry didn’t buy it, so she took off, with her son and her money, to search for child care elsewhere.
But what happens when it’s public money — your tax dollars — that the state of Texas uses to subsidize child care for low-income parents?
The I-Team found that abuse, neglect or mistreatment doesn’t always stop that funding from flowing, according to an analysis of state records. We found daycares with violations for slapping, pinching, even choking kids and yet still getting public subsidies.
The same was true even if a facility had a record of spitting on children, strapping them down or whipping them with a belt. That belt-beating incident, state officials determined, happened at Stars Little Creations in the 12400 block of Oxford in west Houston.
Records indicate it had 115 violations over two years, most of which were rated “medium-high” or “high” in severity.
“You guys are going to have to talk to my attorney,” said Satarrie Burks, the director of Stars Little Creations.
Burks literally shut the door on us when we visited, but it’s wide open when it comes to your tax money. The daycare took in $143,000 of it over the past two years.
”She was livid,” said Attorney Sam Mukerji, who represents the mother of the boys beaten with a belt. Mukerji said unless subsidies are pulled.
Mukerji: “There is no consequence and that’s very unfortunate.”
I-Team: “And when there’s no consequence what can happen?”
Mukerji: “More abuse, more neglect, more of the same thing.”
Consider what happened at Trinity’s Choice for Kidz, in the 2000 block of Plantation Drive in Conroe. It had 187 violations over two years, again most rated high or medium-high. They include no fire inspection, no health inspection and even toilets overflowing with feces.
Tonya Greenwood is the facility’s director.
I-Team: “Your center has a whole of violations, can you explain those?”
Greenwood: “Well, mainly it’s paperwork.”
Paperwork? According to state records, one child wandered off through a fence hole, only to be found and returned by a stranger from a nearby apartment complex.
Greenwood: “That is not true whatsoever.”
I-Team: “So the state is wrong?”
Greenwood: “That was um, hearsay.”
I-Team: “Hearsay? Ma’am there’s a hole in your fence as we speak.”
Greenwood: “There’s not a hole in my fence.”
Well, we found there definitely was a hole, big enough for a toddler to crawl through, and took a photo of it.
Last year, Trinity’s Choice for Kidz took in $106,000 in public funds.
“Get off my property now,” Greenwood said.
So the I-Team sat down with Lisa Givens at the Texas Workforce Commission, the agency that pays these daycares.
I-Team: “Is it a good idea to keep sending money to a place that has a continued pattern of non-compliance?”
Givens: “You know Jeremy, those things that you describe are terrible and I agree.”
But Lisa Givens said it is the parent who gets the subsidy, and that they then are free to choose what daycare they use and for how long they continue to use a particular facility.
“Parents decide to keep their children or not,” Givens said.
So even if a parent sticks with a poor-performing daycare, Givens conceded it will get your tax money until another agency, the Department of Family Protective Services, suspends or revokes the center’s license.
A review of state records shows that rarely happens — affecting less than 1 percent of all licensed daycare operators in the state.
I-Team: “If you pulled the money, do you think these places would start getting their act together?”
Givens: “Again, we work with DFPS to determine…”
I-Team: “Can you answer the question?”
Givens: “We work with DFPS to determine when it’s appropriate to stop funding.”
I-Team: “Can you answer the question?”
Givens: “I am answering the question Jeremy.”
I-Team: “You’re not answering the question.”
While the Workforce Commission said the Department of Family and Protective Services are the experts on this issue, DFPS told the I-Team that the experts are actually at the Workforce Commission.
In short, two state agencies are pointing fingers at each other.
As for why more daycare licenses aren’t suspended or revoked? DFPS Spokesperson Gwen Carter provided the following statement:
“Our day care program is solid. We would expect the percentage of facilities to be revoked to be very low - that is an indicator that the program is working, not the opposite. If we are doing our job, monitoring day care centers, giving them technical assistance, requiring corrective action when we detect problems that become patterns, then very few should become so poor that we have to revoke their license.
If children are at risk, we can and do close an operation immediately. If children are not at risk, we work with operations to make them better so that parents will have safe, affordable and available care.”