Better Call Behnken Investigation: Who’s watching your children?

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you’re a time-crunched working parent, you know how important it is to find childcare that you can rely on. But, how do you really know who’s watching your children?

More than half of children under 5 years old are at child care while their parents work, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Government regulators license workers and inspect facilities, but do background checks really catch warning signs and weed out abusers? If so, why do cases of abuse by childcare givers seem to be on the rise? What about the increase of in-home daycare centers? Are they safer?

Ann Kinsey, a mother of two, says it was tough to make a decision about childcare for her children. But, like so many parents, she went back to work fulltime when her children were babies and she needed someone she could trust to care for her children.

“We have no family in the area, so that was our only choice,” Kinsey said.

Kinsey said she toured numerous childcare centers before settling on one. Her children are now in school, and she credits childcare, in part, for helping the kids get prepared for school.

RELATED: How to find a ‘Gold Seal’ childcare program in your area

Kinsey says every time she sees a new story about child harmed in childcare, she cringes.  “It’s really scary,” she said.

Hillsborough County’s Early Learning Coalition oversees 1,000 centers. CEO Steve Knobl feels sick when he hears of a child hurt at daycare

“I have a grand vision that every child is going to have a great opportunity at a great center so that when they walk into kindergarten, they’re ready to learn, that we have a level playing field for all of our kids and we don’t have that,” Knobl said

Knobl said his staff does a good job of checking up on centers and is even in the process of closing one down after several failed inspections. Even so, when you’re dealing with “the human element,” it’s impossible to make sure nothing bad happens.

Add to that, about half of Tampa Bay area day cares are now run out of people’s homes. The ones that are licensed home day cares are regulated just like traditional centers. But, remarkably, a growing number of unlicensed home day cares are popping up, and that means no one is checking up on those caregivers.

Knobl recommends parents make sure their childcare provider is licensed. You can check online with your county licensing department to see recent inspection reports for your center.

You can also find more detailed information in paper files at your childcare licensing department in your county.

There, you can see what qualifications individual staff members have.

One thing to look for is turnover rate. With each visit, the licensing department lists employees. If you notice that list changes often, that could be a red flag.

You can check criminal records yourself by searching for employee names on local law enforcement websites and by ordering a criminal background check from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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