Many parents count on day cares to provide a safe place for their children while they’re at work. But a yearlong investigation by the Austin American-Statesman is sounding multiple alarm bells about the safety of day care in Texas.
Tony Plohetski and Sean Collins Walsh are members of the team investigating an alarming series of incidents at Texas day care centers, and what the state is and isn’t doing to respond to allegations of abuse, poor conditions and child deaths. The Statesman series is called “Unwatched.”
Plohetski says that over the past decade, Texas day care centers have been cited 3,200 times for abuse and neglect.
“We looked at cases in which children are getting injured,” Plohetski says. “Some have died.”
The number of child sexual abuse cases alone was 450, Plohetski says. And nearly 90 children have died from abuse and neglect in Texas daycare centers in the past decade.
Walsh says many of the incidents investigated by the state occurred in illegal day care facilities – centers run by people who have not registered with the state, and do not follow state regulations.
Plohetski says parents often end up turning to unlicensed day care providers because child care is so expensive.
“Those are situations that really can give rise, then, to children getting injured or killed in their facilities,” Plohetski says.
Walsh says the state’s unit assigned to investigate abuse and neglect at day care facilities was shut down by the state Health and Human Services department in 2017. Walsh says the agency says it disbanded the unit – which had been created four years earlier – because finding unlicensed day care operators was too difficult, and that onerous requirements for federal child care subsidies meant resources got diverted to dealing with those, and away from the day care investigation. Walsh and Plohetski say some lawmakers they spoke to were surprised that the investigative unit was disbanded.
Despite the volume of information uncovered by the Statesman team, Plohetski says the state has not been fully forthcoming with death records and other information they requested. The Statesman and its corporate parent, Gatehouse Media, have sued for the release of that data.
“One of the reasons we did this work was to create change among day cares and day care regulation,” Plohetski says. “And we have heard from the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, who has said very publicly that this is something he’s looking at and taking seriously.”
He says Austin-area Sen. Kirk Watson has said he intends to pursue legislation to address the issue of abuse and neglect in day care facilities.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.