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The Dark Forgotten Past of some Daycares...


How do I know if the daycare I am interested in is as it appears?

In a recent inquiry, the Center for Investigating Reporting reported on several fully-licensed daycares operating in Napa County with a heavy past of violations. And they are raising an important concern for prospective and enrolled parents: how do I know if the daycare I am interested in is as it appears?

In the US, every childcare center, small or large, has to be licensed to operate. In California, the Department of Social Services has written a document called Title 22 Regulations, a dense 270 pages covering everything from health and safety to personnel requirements, from play areas footage to food, and much more.

To be granted a license to operate, a childcare has to prove that they comply in details and an analyst (specialized staff member from DSS) will visit the center prior to granting the license. The same analyst will re-visit the center from time to time to monitor. So far, so good. A solid system to ensure that daycares do care after our little ones safely. Or is it?

Even though designed with really good intentions, this system has some major flaws.

  • First, the rules varies widely from one state to another. In Arizona, there has to be at least one teacher for 5 babies, but in California, it is 1 to 4. But now, in Arizona, they require 1 to 8 for toddlers (age 2)… and California 1 to 12… Are kids so different from one state to another? Or are the teachers…?

  • Second, to ensure a system works and is followed, there has to be enough resources to monitor it. In this case, enough Analysts to visit the daycare center on a regular basis. In Sacramento, our Analyst is in charge of … 300 centers! And that’s only one sector. Other sectors do not even have an Analyst currently and this load is spread on the others. How can one person monitor effectively the compliance of 300 centers? To their credit, they are quite responsive when a childcare has a problem or a question. But they lack time for site visits.

  • Third, the occasional inspections, even though random, are very often ineffective. In too many daycares, as soon as the Analyst steps in, the whole staff start acting a bad play portraying a daycare working in compliance… till the Analyst leaves. And then, knowing the Analyst will not return to their daycare for another year (at least) the staff, including management, will resume breaking rules or simply be negligent. Quality daycares, like us, will strive to meet and exceed the requirements on a daily basis.licensing visit


When choosing a daycare for his/her child, a parent has to go beyond appearances. It is highly unlikely that a daycare is operating without a license. But when was it last inspected? How many violations did they have in the past? Good daycare centers will have a policy of transparency, because they are proud of their centers. These preschools or daycares will answer these questions truthfully and let you see the documents. Still not satisfied? The records are public, but to see them will require a trip to the DSS office in charge. Recently, California put some information online. It is now possible to see how many violation a center had in the past, but little else. Here is the link:

Last word… Even a good daycare may have had a citation in the past: a friend of ours had 7 teachers (large center) calling sick the very day her Analyst came to inspect the center and cited her for having not enough teachers per child… Murphy’s’ Law?

A lot more information can be found on the Department of Social Services website

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