Feds say Maine’s oversight of child care facilities not adequate

Posted Aug. 16, 2014, at 12:11 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 17, 2014, at 2:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Many of Maine’s child care facilities did not obtain criminal history records of employees, held on to breast milk or medication long after it had expired, and let children play near potentially dangerous items such as knives, space heaters and cleaning supplies, according to a federal audit.

The audit was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General in 2013, and reports of its findings were released early Friday morning.

Included in the reports were descriptions of expired medications found in first-aid kits, year-old frozen breast milk found in one freezer and a lack of routine maintenance at some facilities, resulting in chipped paint, broken fencing and exposed pipes. In some facilities, there were no records that showed that criminal history reports had been obtained.

The reports stated that some child care providers did not conduct annual screenings for potential lead hazards, stage monthly fire drills or have records of rabies certificates for pets at the facility, all of which are required by the state.

Also included in the reports were photographs of an uncovered electrical outlet, knives stored in unlocked drawers and pet food left out near toys where children played.

The audit was conducted at facilities in Maine that receive federal funding and was meant to determine whether the state’s monitoring efforts ensured that facilities met state standards. Recommendations to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, such as that the state agency should ensure “more frequent and thorough on-site monitoring” and reduce licensing inspectors caseloads, also were included in the report.

The reports said that six licensed day care centers and 20 licensed family child day care home providers were inspected, unannounced. All but three of the facilities visited had at least one instance of noncompliance. None of the facilities were named.

The state had inspected 18 of the 20 day care centers and all six of the day care home providers, which did not always have the effect of ensuring those facilities complied with state standards, the reports said.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services commissioner, Mary Mayhew, responded to the audit in a letter to the regional inspector general for audit services.

“We appreciate the time spent in Maine by [the Office of Inspector General’s] staff reviewing Maine’s child day care centers,” she said. “We believe this effort will enable us to perform this function more accurately in the future.”

Mayhew’s letter, dated June 16, explained how the state is already working to carry out the recommendations.

“Maine has increased licensing surveyor personnel by [16] positions that will decrease surveyor caseloads from an average of 180 licenses to 80,” the letter said.

The letter also said that unannounced inspections are conducted at least annually at child care facilities and that the department is developing a web portal that will allow parents and guardians to research child care providers.

The letter noted that “the state of Maine aims to focus efforts on reducing the number of unlicensed child care providers.”

A spokesman for the department said that the state does not know how many unlicensed providers exist but that “we suspect the number is rather large.”

“We ask those who are aware of unlicensed providers to reach out to the Maine DLRS and report them, so we can investigate and work with them to become licensed,” he said.

Mayhew was unavailable for further comment on Friday.

The federal agency has conducted similar audits and released reports on child care facilities in Michigan and Connecticut, a spokesperson said. Reports on other states will be released soon. The spokesperson declined to compare states’ practices.

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