Herald reporter talks SC day care problems, parent tools
A Rock Hill day care center employee left a 3-year-old boy alone at a Fort Mill park for two hours last month. That was one of many violations from the Department of Social Services that area day care providers have faced.
The day care that left the child is A Child’s Heart in Rock Hill, according to a Fort Mill police report. The addressed listed for A Child’s Heart puts it off Carolina Avenue.
A Child’s Heart has 96 complaints listed from DSS since late 2015. More than 30 are ranked as serious violations that can impact a child’s health and safety. Improper supervision is listed multiple times since 2015. Other complaints against the day care include fire code violations, personnel behavior, unqualified caregivers and transportation violations.
Recent violations brought to light have raised the question of day care safety. Who’s overseeing them and how can parents know which day cares are reliable?
DSS is the main regulator of day cares, and all day cares must follow the statewide rules outlined by the S.C. Department of Social Services.
When a possible violation is reported, DSS is called to the care provider. If a day care is found to be functioning illegally, DSS employees ask the owners to close immediately and stay on-site until all children are picked up.
Parents and guardians can search for child care providers by zip code on the DSS Child Care division’s website. The site shows whether the day care is registered, licensed or exempt. The search lists violations a center has had and whether they have been resolved. Violations listed online date back three years.
Some complaints against Rock Hill area day cares, as listed on the website, include improper supervision, fire code violations, health and safety violations, over enrollment, and playground violations.
DSS categorizes complaints as low, medium or high. Low violations mean a facility is not complying with some child care regulations, but these violations are not likely to put a child’s health and safety at risk. Medium and high categories are serious violations and could more likely lead to harm of a child.
Several York County day care centers have violations.
On May 31, officers responded to a Rock Hill home after the City of Rock Hill Zoning department received complaints of an illegal, unlicensed day care operating at the residence, a police report states. Cars were seen dropping off children. In Rock Hill, in-home day cares cannot operate without a permit from the city’s zoning department.
Child care providers must have a valid state license or registration, or be legally exempt, to operate in South Carolina.
DSS employees also responded to the home and saw 21 kids ranging from infant to four years old, the police report states. The home owner told police the children were related to her. Due to the number of children and the complaints, police told the owner the site looked like a day care, and to shut down, the report says.
There have been three zoning code violations with in-home day cares in the City of Rock Hill this year, said Robin Joas, inspections coordinator with housing and neighborhood services for the city.
“It’s not unusual in the summertime for us to have pop up day cares,” Joas said.
Joas said in-home day cares in Rock Hill that do not have a city permit, or that are caring for more than five children, violate zoning laws. Rock Hill zoning also requires in-home day cares to fence outdoor play areas and provide at least three off-street parking spaces.
Zoning requirements vary for different municipalities.
Commercial day cares are allowed only in certain zoning districts and can require a public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals, according to Rock Hill zoning.
Parents or residents who believe a day care is operating illegally, or is not following state regulations, can check with DSS or call their zoning department. Complaints can be filed with the South Carolina DSS Division of Early Care and Education.
DSS offers tools to help parents select the right child care provider.
Here are the types of child care providers as defined by the South Carolina Department of Social Services:
- Registered or licensed child care centers, such as commercial, church or school-based providers for children 13 years and older
- Licensed group homes, which typically serve 7-12 children
- Registered or licensed family homes, which serve six or fewer children
Child care providers must meet basic health and safety requirements, such as safe and sturdy playground equipment, cribs that meet federal standards, properly stored and labeled food and clean linens and toys.
The amount of DSS oversight varies based on the type of care provider.
Licensed providers are routinely visited by DSS. Registered faith-based centers are sponsored by churches or religious organizations but also are subject to regular DSS visits.
Once a year, DSS licensing professionals can have an unannounced visit to registered family home providers.
Exempt providers, which are child care centers that are open less than four hours a day and on school holidays, are not subject to any licensing or inspections.
Some types of providers, such as family-home providers, are required to be registered with the state but are not required to meet the stricter guidelines of a license, according to DSS.
Providers also may opt to meet requirements above what’s required.
Parents can learn about the level of service provided at day cares that participate in ABC Quality, which is South Carolina DSS’ voluntary quality rating system. Child care providers who opt into the system receive a rating from the DSS Child Care Division based on how well they meet or exceed basic child care standards.
ABC ratings take into account items such as teacher education and certification, health and safety policies, family involvement, learning environments and the availability of age-appropriate activities.
Child Care Survey