COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Nearly 225,000 children under 6 years old in South Carolina need child care.
Not all child care facilities are licensed and those that are may have violations you don't even know about. 17 centers were closed in the last two years for violations.
Jada Collins' 3 year old daughter's experience at child care was far from a happy one. Her daughter was potty-trained before she enrolled there.
"After three or four weeks of going to this new day care, which I picked on convenience at that time, she just every day had, you know, soiled her clothes and I had to bring in a new change of clothes," said Collins.
So Collins made an unannounced visit.
"One particular day I had got there and found out she had been in those clothes for an hour," she said. "And in that moment I snatched her out and found a new day care.
Collins considered it a lesson learned
"Go online, because afterwards I went online and looked up and they didn't have good reviews," said Collins. "Had I had done that before, I might would have chose differently."
One of 40 state inspectors conducts at least two unannounced inspections at all licensed child care centers every year. The results are online for any parent to see.
"No ma'am, I did not know," said parent Dion Yates.
"I heard something about that but I hadn't checked it out," said parent Rebecca Pattky.
DSS says word of mouth from friends isn't good enough.
"I think it's really important for parents to know where to go when choosing a daycare facility," said Leigh Bolick, DSS Director of the Division of Early Care and Education.
Consider this: 17 child care facilities in the last two years were forced by DSS to shut their doors, the result of severe violations. 11 of those were family homes that DSS can only investigate once a complaint is made.
Five were typical child care centers and one a group home.
Five are right here in the Midlands: Wendy Miller in Sumter, Eartha Mae Anderson in Sumter, Valjenia Davis of Sumter, Vicky Murray-Brown in Columbia and Precious Angels in Columbia.
We randomly checked ten licensed child care facilities from Lexington and Richland Counties. Between October and April, all received one of their two annual unannounced inspections. Violations were found at each one, but that's not uncommon.
"We find a lot of things that are resolved on site," said Bolick.
Specific items must be corrected before an inspector leaves. According to DSS, one of the most concerning write-ups is supervision.
If it's a supervision issue and there are not enough staff, we do not leave that center until that's fixed on site," said Bolick.
Of the 10 random child care centers we checked, a third had one of the worst violations: out of ratio caregivers to children. Another severe violation is not tracking children left in their care.
"That's one thing we see a lot, is that facilities have to make sure that they know where every child goes or certainly when they travel like on or off a bus because children get left at all sorts of places," said Bolick.
Other violations included unauthorized or unqualified caregivers, playground deficiencies, transportation violations, not to mention issues with restrooms and electrical outlet concerns.
"That's why I really recommend that parents look at specific deficiencies, like supervisions, and call us for more information," said Bolick.
And what about complaints?
"We do not post anything to the web site that we found to be untrue," she said.
So when you see a complaint listed, parents can be certain it's a legitimate concern and can tell if it's been addressed. Child care centers aren't required to notify parents of violations so the only way to check is the state's web site. DSS has recently revamped the information making it more user-friendly, including a link now on the homepage.
"We have started a consumer awareness campaign so you may see billboards or posters just telling people or parents that they need to look for the license," said Bolick.
DSS officials hope more parents might consult the web site, before paying fees and signing up their children based solely on the recommendation of a friend.
And not all child care centers are created equal.
In South Carolina, a family child care home that cares for up to six children is required to register with the state but does not get inspected like a larger center.
The same goes for a religious-based child care center. They have to register, but if they're not licensed, no one may be checking up on them, leaving a parent with limited information.
"At least with licensed care you know that DSS is going out there and inspecting," said Bolick.
WIS went along with a state inspector inside the Incarnation Lutheran Child Development Center to see what an inspection is like.
Every care giver's name is collected, and their paperwork is checked. April McDaniel is one of 40 state inspectors with a long checklist, from the water temperature at the sink to the temperature in the refrigerator where bottles and sippy cups may be stored.
"The thermometer is not working," said McDaniel. "It's 60. It should be 40."
Next it's on to the changing mats and the box where any medication including sunscreen is kept under lock and key.
" All medication labeled with the children's name," said McDaniel.
On to the two and three year olds room where again the sinks and toilets are checked but there's an issue with the changing mats here.
"Some of your changing mats are torn," McDaniel observed.
In the infants room, the center recently replaced it's cribs after a recall.
Inspectors also check the facility's playground.
"Make sure all the equipment is in good repair," said McDaniel.
If a center offers transportation, inspectors insure it has a first aid kit and paperwork to track students.
"Each group of children we have get on the bus have a roster," said McDaniel.
As a religious-affiliated center, the facility doesn't have to go through the process but chooses to be licensed.
"It's a matter of how you view it and I have sought out relationships with the ABC programs which is part of the DSS organization and here again we put ourselves out for additional unannounced visits with them," said Teresa Boykin with Incarnation Lutheran Child Development Center.
"There was a thermometer in one of our refrigerators that wasn't registering the right temp," said Boykin. "And that's a good thing to know, to make sure we don't have a problem. And if there were anything else we would certainly jump right on it and fix it, so it's a partnership.
Boykin believes if you agree to be licensed, you agree to the standard that comes with it.
" I think most parents want the best for their children and I believe there's enough resources out there in the community by word of mouth family you can find a good program for your child, you just have to look," she said.
Day care parents at other centers who've used DSS's information say you've got to read it carefully.
"It's the same thing with most restaurants," said parent Ashley Oh. "There's something going to be wrong. Nobody's perfect, but a majority of the time when you find things, sometimes it's just paperwork wise and that's not nearly as big of an issue for me than if there were incidents that were a problem."
Some parents say the unannounced checks should happen more than twice a year, plus complaints.
"These are your kids and you have to make sure your kids are taken care of while you're not there," said Pattky.
"They need to check up on them monthly," said Yates.
Which is why DSS relies on parents to be their eyes and ears when they're not there.
"When you see something on the web site, ask them," said Bolick.
DSS also encourages parents to drop in unannounced. And if a center won't allow you in, DSS claims that could be a sign something is wrong.
Centers that have been closed in the last 2 years:
Family Homes that had to close (revocations only) - 11
Lillie Wilson (Cheraw) - revoked 3/12/2012, closed 6/1/12
Julia Hines (Dillon) - revoked 4/11/12, closed 8/30/12
Cherry Singletary (Lake City) - revoked 5/3/12, closed 7/5/12
Geraldine T. Green (Florence) - revoked 5/14/12, closed 7/16/12
Nicole S. Boyd (Rock Hill) - revoked 7/9/12, closed 8/30/12
Wendy Miller (Sumter) - revoked 7/10/12, closed 10/2/12
Bonnie King (Gaston) - revoked 8/7/12, closed 9/6/12
Tamela Stacks (Johnsonville) - revoked 9/13/12, closed 10/10/12
Stephanie Washington (Barnwell) - revoked 9/13/12, closed 10/17/12
Eartha Mae Anderson (Sumter) - revoked 12/7/12, closed 5/9/13
Vicky Murray-Brown (Columbia) - revoked 12/20/12, closed 1/23/13
Centers that were revoked and closed - 5
Tender Loving Care (Wellford) - revoked 7/11/12, 9/11/12
Tender Loving Care (Wellford) - revoked 11/9/2012, 12/15/12
Community Day Care of Mt. Olive (Chester) - revoked 2/13/13, closed 4/26/13
Precious Angels (Columbia) - revoked 6/1/11, closed 2/1/12
Children of the Harvest (Greenville) - revoked 12/1/11, closed 3/7/12
Group Homes that revoked and closed - 1
Valjenia Davis (Sumter) - revoked 6/6/11, closed 3/5/12