State plagued by child care concerns
The Louisiana legislative auditor has concerns with how the state Department of Education handles child care complaints.
Auditor Daryl Purpera in a report issued last week said the department lacks an effective process to investigate child care complaints, failed to quickly check on reports of providers operating illegally and does not comply with key national practices such as the child-to-staff ratio.
Louisiana has 1,780 child care providers for 44,656 children and oversight of the centers has been under the direction of the Department of Education since 2014.
While Purpera’s report is scathing, Bridget Devlin, chief operating officer for the Department of Education, said she agrees with all of his findings.
“Immediate steps have been taken to implement new procedures and practices aligned with the recommendations,” Devlin said told the Baton Rouge Advocate.
She said the department is also working to move Louisiana closer to national standards.
The recommended staff-child ratios from birth to age 1 is one staff member for four babies; in Louisiana it’s 1:5. The national standard for 1-year-olds is 1:4; in Louisiana it’s 1:7. The recommendation for 2-year-olds is 1:6 compared to 1:11 in Louisiana.
Devlin said the deparement plans to hold talks with elected officials and stakeholders on how oversight rules can be moved closer to the national recommendations.
In other areas of his report, Purpera said the department does not track child care complaints and does not consistently document when complaints are confirmed.
The report claims that over the course of a year, one department record showed 8.2 percent of complaints were backed up while another record said 19 percent had been. Nearly one of three complaints, or 251 cases, were not checked within the department’s own time frame — which itself is longer than best practices recommend.
In addition, Purpera said the department lacks a defined process to investigate complaints on family providers and needs to make unannounced inspections.
“Effective documenting and tracking of complaints on family and in-home providers is important to ensure the safety of children cared for in these settings,” the report claims.
The family provider complaints included reports on an older sibling picking up and holding a 10-month-baby by the neck; a provider unable to care for children because of advanced dementia; and a child who suffered second-degree burns to his left hand after being left unsupervised in a room with an open flame heater. In another case, the audit said a convicted rapist was living in the home of a family provider.
In its written response, the department said state oversight of family and in-home providers has been established, including unannounced visits.
Clearly, Louisiana is falling short in a range of areas. Now that those area have been pointed out, its time for the Department of Education to get tougher with its oversight.