Child care facilities under new state oversight

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COLUMBIA – This week Gov. Mike Parson announced there will be a new child care working group to address issues of safety and quality care.

The group will be made up of staff from the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the attorney general’s office, according to a press release. 

This comes after a Facebook video went viral of a St. Louis daycare worker throwing a child.

“I was pretty devastated,” Gay Litteken, executive director at Mary Lee Johnston Community Learning Center said. “That was hard to watch.”

She said she can’t imagine that ever happening at her daycare facility.

“Safety is a priority and it should be,” Litteken said. “We’re taking care of other people’s children on a day to day basis and parents need to be ensured their kids are safe.” 

Dawn Huckins, a mother of two, agrees, but said it’s a difficult situation. 

“You have to go with what you can afford, and I feel like daycare is a large portion of our income but you also have to get good teachers so you want to pay them well too,” Huckins said.

She has been with her daycare for almost 11 years but remembers the days of searching for the right one. Huckins said it is all about observation and intuition. 

“When you’re in and visiting and getting ready to pick a daycare, just watching the kids and seeing how they interact with the teachers, they’re very sensitive to things like that,” Huckins said. “Kids are going to cry but you can tell when they are scared.” 

Litteken said trust is the most important.

“I think you have to have faith in your teachers and a trust. When we hire people, we don’t take that lightly, we screen heavily,” Litteken said. “We want to make sure we have the right people for our center.” 

Randall Williams, the Director of DHSS, said the group will meet next week for a briefing. He said they will get a breakdown of where the complaints come from and hear from DESE about a pilot program of quality assurance.

“Every licensed daycare facility would get a report card by standardized criteria to know where their particular daycare ranks,” Williams said. “Right now, we inspect them once a year, the report card would make them publicly accountable to their customers."

He said they are basing this off states who do a report card already. Williams also said they are looking at increasing training for child care workers before they start the job.

Williams said they plan to visit St. Louis in two weeks to hear daycare owners about their thoughts.

All recommendations will be presented to Parson by June 1.