Editor's Note: This story was originally published in May 2017. It is part of our Year in Review section.
Daycares in Georgia get millions of dollars in taxpayer money to care for the state's vulnerable children. An 11Alive investigation found some of those daycares have been cited hundreds of times over the past three years for breaking the rules.
These violations can put Georgia's children at risk.
When Camella Jackson chose a daycare for her infant son, Hunter, this past December - safety was top priority. She visited the Sunshine House in Villa Rica twice before registering her son because, "It looked like a good daycare to me,” she said.
Three months later, Jackson found her son at the daycare with a golf-ball sized knot on his head when she picked him up after work one day.
Photos | Hunter after his skull fracture
She said daycare workers told her they didn't notice the knot and she didn't find out about it until she arrived.
"They didn't call me. They didn't even have an accident report filled out,” she said.
Jackson thought something was wrong and took her son to the hospital.
“I was in tears on the way to the hospital and when the doctors told me that his skull was fractured I had broke down. I was very, very upset,” Jackson said.
Hunter was almost a year old at the time. He's healing now and wearing a foam helmet to protect his skull as it heals.
The Georgia Department of Early Learning said they're investigating the incident. A spokesperson with the Sunshine House declined interviews, but emailed a response to say, "The health and welfare of the children in our care is our highest priority. We take any allegation of an injury very seriously. We are doing all we can to assist with both investigations. Since these are ongoing investigations, we are unable to comment further at this time."
An 11Alive investigation found this daycare has been cited at least 17 times since 2013. Violations range from “no finger print record checks” for employees to finding ”fencing hazardous to children.”
During that time, it collected $221,000 from a federally-funded state program called CAPS, or Child Care and Parent Services.
About a month after the 11Alive Investigators reached out to Hunter's former daycare, the Sunshine House sent a letter to parents announcing, the Villa Rica location will be closing on Friday, May 26th. The company blamed the closure on low attendance and said it had nothing to do with the claims of neglect.
In another prepared statement, The Sunshine House wrote, "It is far from clear that the child's injuries were sustained while in our care." Daycare spokesperson Barbara Richardson says staff saw Hunter was "alert and responsive" when Jackson picked him up.
CHECK YOUR DAYCARE
11Alive gained access to a complete list of every childcare provider who has been cited over the past three years. Use the map below or search by county to find the daycares with violations in your area. The data is over a three year period.
When daycare facilities receive citations, an investigation is launched and the daycare has the opportunity to appeal. With citations, daycares run the risk of losing their licenses.
To get specific details about the citations a daycare received, the state of Georgia has a database where parents can download the inspection reports. These reports detail observations made during inspections and details about violations.
Sharae Bey's infant son, Khai, also suffered an injury at a Georgia daycare with a history of violations. This past January, Bey said the daycare called to tell her Khai's finger was injured.
“They did not make it seem urgent, so I didn't rush to go get him,” said Bey. When she arrived, her son had a deep cut on one of his fingers.
“His finger was sliced. He almost cut the tip of his finger off,” said Bey. The Department of Early Care and Learning is also investigation the incident.
According to state records, Khai's daycare was cited 25 times since 2013. During that time, it collected more than $136,141 in CAP subsidies.
A LARGER PROBLEM
Digging deeper, an 11Alive Investigation uncovered 40 Georgia daycares cited 100 or more times in three years. At the time, the state had revoked just four of those daycares' taxpayer funding.
“In Georgia, we have over 450 licensing rules and they have levels of severity," DECL Commissioner Amy Jacobs, said. "So, there will be citations in childcare because it's hard to meet 450 rules perfectly when we come in unannounced.”
The most egregious case centers around an Atlanta daycare cited 276 times. Among the violations, state investigators found glass in the playground and no supervision in a room full of children.
Jacobs said revocation is an option but they try to work with the childcare providers.
“Health and safety are our number one priority at DECL, especially for those children that are in childcare programs. But, what we want to do is work with programs as much as possible for them correct. If they don't correct, we can do a revocation,” Jacobs said.
Last year, the Office of Inspector General addressed the problem in an Op-Ed titled: Americans Foot bill for substandard childcare
Of the 227 daycares it inspected across the country, 96% had at least one health and safety violation. While Georgia was not part of its investigation, the agency says all state need to review its accountability standards.
While Georgia was not part of its investigation, the agency said all states need to review its accountability standards.
George Nedder is a manager for the Office of Inspector General, "What we found is not good enough. It's gotta get better,” he said.
Jacobs said Georgia does a better job than many states, like performing at least two unannounced inspections a year.
Jacobs says taking CAPS funding away, without allowing a facility to correct problems first, can disrupt a family if they don't have other options.