The Associated Press
The state of Georgia is cracking down on day care providers that leave children unattended in a center’s vehicle.
The commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning announced Friday that his agency has introduced new and increased penalties for transportation violations.
Fines have gone up from $299 to $499 — the maximum a Georgia agency can demand — but Commissioner Bobby Cagle believes the new threat of immediate closure should improve compliance quickly.
“The transportation of children is where we see the most serious consequences when there are lapses with regard to compliance of those regulations,” Cagle said. “This becomes even more important in Georgia during the summer months with forecasts calling for triple-digit highs.”
Since last summer, when a 2-year-old Clayton County girl died in a hot van, DECAL has investigated 21 cases in which children ages 3 to 9 were inadvertently left unattended in day care vehicles. The agency determined that the kids were trapped inside anywhere from 10 minutes to five hours.
“We have tried a very measured approach, working with providers, but it is not working,” Cagle said. “Twenty-one incidences over a year are 21 opportunities for a child to die, and that will not continue.”
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal gave DECAL the authority last July to close facilities on an emergency basis.
“I will not hesitate to do that,” Cagle said. “I come from a child protective services background, and that’s my professional and personal mission. I will not hesitate to use that when it’s appropriate.”
Revised transportation rules require day care providers to include checklists of the first and last names of every child being transported in a center vehicle. Staff initials and recorded times of each arrival and departure at every location are required, as are physical inspections in the vehicles.
The state permanently closed Marlo’s Magnificent Early Learning Center in Jonesboro after 2-year-old Jazmin Green died on a June 20, 2011, field trip to Chuck E. Cheese.
Since then, three other centers were closed on an emergency basis.
On Feb. 1, Tender Kare center in Columbus was shut down after children were transported to a location without parents’ knowledge and consent.
Two other centers — Janice Wilson Family Day Care Home in Waycross and Danielle DaVita Family Day Care Home in Evans — were shut down because of sexual molestation charges.
DECAL licenses and inspects about 6,300 childcare facilities that serve approximately 375,000 kids in Georgia.
Georgia Childcare Association president Hows King said the threat of closure will command more attention from centers.
“There are well-meaning people, and there’s oversight when people make mistakes,” King said. “We’re humans. It’s very unfortunate, but we can’t lose our diligence at any time. I truly believe that the measures implemented today will help reinsure that diligence.”
In a list provided by DECAL to The Associated Press, the agency currently has open investigations of four cases involving improper transportation. Two are under appeal. Twelve centers were fined.
“Regarding children that are left on vans or buses, we intend to take a very hard line,” Cagle said.
Cagle believes only a small percentage of day care providers fail to follow rules.
“There is an interest on part of this department to support providers,” Cagle said. “They provide a service that is invaluable. Parents depend upon these facilities to take care of their children so they can work. It’s an economic condition, so we want to be able to support that, but there is a line beyond which we will not go.”
Cagle said DECAL is having internal discussions about the possibility developing legislation to be discussed early next year.