New law partly to blame for increase in fined child care providers in 2012

2013-03-04T10:30:00Z New law partly to blame for increase in fined child care providers in 2012DOUG ERICKSON | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6149

A relatively new state law that requires child care centers to install safety alarms in vehicles that transport children tripped up several area child care centers last year, resulting in the largest individual fines levied by state inspectors.

Overall, about one-fourth of the fines assessed to child care centers in the state's 15-county southern region in 2012 related to the law. The State Journal compiles the data each year to bring greater transparency to the state's oversight of licensed child care centers.

Last year, 46 child care providers in the southern region were fined a total of $15,900. That's up from 23 providers and $11,350 in fines in 2011. Andy Smith, a spokesman for the state Department of Children and Families, attributed the increase to regular year-to-year fluctuation.

There are 1,086 licensed child care centers in the southern region, which includes Dane County. Only a fraction are fined each year — 4 percent in 2012.

Death spurs law

The law on safety alarms was passed just weeks after the death of Jalen Knox-Perkins in 2009. The 4-month-old boy had been left alone for about four hours in a van at a Milwaukee child care center.

Now, all child care center vans and buses with seating for six or more passengers must have a safety alarm.

Most alarms work like this: When the driver turns off the ignition, a reminder tone sounds. The driver must walk to the back of the vehicle to switch off the alarm.

The intent is to prompt a visual inspection of every seat, Smith said. "If used properly, the child safety alarms could prevent a child care provider from accidentally leaving a child in a vehicle," he said.

Cardinal Country Daycare in Columbus was among the centers fined last year for violating the law. On a field trip last October, a 4-year-old child was left unattended in a center vehicle and not discovered until staff members returned after the field trip, about 90 minutes later. The center was fined $1,000, the maximum possible for a one-time incident.

Although the vehicle had a working alarm, an employee shut it off before all children exited. It was raining that day, and the employee wanted to get the children into a building as quickly as possible, said center owner Jo Johnson. In haste, the employee did things out of order, deactivating the alarm before unbuckling some of the children.

"We made an error, and thank God no one got hurt," Johnson said. "It's a good law, but no law is perfect unless people follow the policies in place."

The employee at fault was a longtime, valued staff member who remains with the center, Johnson said.

Always needed?

Sharlot Bogart, owner of Teddy's Place in Sun Prairie, said the vehicle-alarm law is well-intended, but she questioned whether it needs to apply to vans, given the relatively small number of children involved. Her center was fined $1,000 in October for transporting children in a van without a safety alarm.

Bogart said her center always does a verbal head count when exiting a vehicle, calling out each child's name and marking off the child on a clipboard. "That's the best way to find out if a child is still on a bus or not," she said.

The van in question had an alarm but it no longer worked, Bogart said. The van is no longer used, and the center is in the process of buying a bus, she said.

Michelle Pulvermacher of Michelle's Daycare in Middleton, also fined for using a vehicle without a safety alarm, said she only ever transports five children. Like Bogart, she questioned the need for an alarm in a small van.

"If I can't keep track of five kids and transport them somewhere, I probably shouldn't be a child care provider to start with," she said. She has since installed an alarm.

Phillip Carlson, owner of Kiddos in Lake Mills, is appealing the $1,000 fine his center received in November for not having a vehicle alarm. Carlson said the van in question is used only for transporting groceries, not children.

"It's a misunderstanding," he said.

Kids Korner in Evansville was fined $1,000 in August after a state inspector learned a van that had been used to transport children numerous times from the center to the Evansville swimming pool did not have an alarm. Center operator Jammie Fellows did not return calls for comment.

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(3) Comments

  1. Informed1
    Report Abuse
    Informed1 - March 04, 2013 11:56 pm
    @joe - if you read the rule book tha you refer to you will see that a procedure and an alarm are required. You should also know that alarms don't cost $1800. Most alarms are around $200. And you are right, every licensed family child care provider should be able to navigate that book - I am responsible for it. I operate a high quality child care program and I appreciate the state oversight and support.
  2. joe
    Report Abuse
    joe - March 04, 2013 3:06 pm
    The new alarm costs about $1800 to install and applies to all vehicles with more than five seats. If you provide child care and transport even just one time during the year, you are required to have this installed. A better rule would be to require a procedure instead of the alarm. Obviously, the alarm doesn't do any good if the procedure is not followed. However, the State loves to heap as much regulation on the child care providers as possible and they are successful since the child care industry doesn't have any lobby to counter the bureaucrats gone wild.

    Of course, this only applies to licensed providers. If you are not licensed, do whatever you want. Only licensed providers are heavily regulated. If your provider is not licensed they are not even on the State's radar. If they are certified, they barely register on the State's radar. Here is the link to the 68 page rule book for a licensed family child care provider: Every licensed provider needs to be able to navigate through this book.
  3. nufsenuf
    Report Abuse
    nufsenuf - March 03, 2013 1:52 pm
    Is it the law or lack of compliance that "tripped them up"?
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