BRADENTON — The state’s lax oversight of home day cares is back in the spotlight in Manatee County after police say a 13-year-old boy brutally beat and possibly raped a 22-month-old child in a local day care.
Police arrested the owner and operator of Our Kids Home Daycare after a parent brought his baby girl from the day care to the hospital badly beaten. A doctor determined the child had been beaten, choked and sexually assaulted, according to Bradenton police reports.
Investigation revealed the home’s owner, Heather Elizabeth Lovett, left five children in the care of her boyfriend’s 13-year-old son. The boy later admitted to becoming angry with the child and punching her 20 times. He denied sexually assaulting the child, but doctors said the infant had injuries consistent with such an attack.
Police arrested the boy on an aggravated child abuse charge, and Lovett on a child neglect charge, while the Department of Children & Families revoked Lovett’s registration to operate a day care in Florida.
But if police had not gotten involved in the child abuse investigation, the state would never have looked in on conditions inside Our Kids Home Daycare, at 1420 16th St. W.
That’s because operators of home day cares with fewer than 10 children only must register with DCF, but that registration does not bring with it inspections like those conducted for larger licensed facilities.
“We have no authority to go into a home day care registered with us,” said DCF spokesman Terry Field.
Prior to having her registration revoked, Lovett had been registered with the state since March — one of 64 home day cares in Manatee and 1,692 statewide that are never inspected.
To register, a home day care provider only needs to submit to DCF the name of the operator, the number of children served, a written emergency plan, proof of background checks for employees, proof of completion of the 30-hour training course, and proof that immunization records of the children are kept current. But other than an annual re-registration with the required documents updated, there is no other oversight.
State law does allow local governments to craft ordinances mandating licensing of home day cares, which can mandate inspections by local officials. But unlike neighboring Sarasota, Manatee does not have such an ordinance.
Nearly four years ago, when a child drowned at a Manatee home day care, there was widespread support among child advocates to create such local regulation. But the issue never made it in front of Manatee County commissioners, according to commissioner Ron Getman.
Some are hoping another effort could be mounted in the wake of the arrests at the Bradenton home day care.
“We would support trying to do that again,” said Early Learning Coalition director of family services Wendy Holden. “It raises the bar for caring for our children. What provider wouldn’t want to do that?”
Getman called the recent attack on the child in Bradenton “a tragedy” and said he would be open to listening to concerns over monitoring of home day care facilities. He warned, however, that the effort and money involved would be significant.
“These things are tragedies for everyone involved,” Getman said. “But you can’t legislate away tragedies. I don’t think there is an ordinance that could have been drafted that would have prevented this.”
Holden says as parents come to the Early Learning Coalition for help in selecting a day care, she points out that registered home day cares are not subject to inspections in Manatee.
The coalition also offers a free referral service online at www.elc-manatee.org, or in person at its Bradenton office, at 3526 Ninth St. W. It is a computerized program that allows parents to type in what they want in a day care and the program lists area day cares that may be compatible.
But the referral list is not a recommendation, Holden cautions, and she urged parents to do significant research into any facility they leave their child with. Above all, the ELC recommend parents make unannounced visits to prospective day cares to observe a day care’s true environment.
“Parents need to feel good about where they leave their children when they go to work,” Holden said.
For more information on selecting a day care log onto www.elc-manatee.org, or call 757-2900.