Parents are watching Grand Forks County day cares closely and reporting them more
Grand Forks County Social Services has been investigating licensed child-care providers more as parents express their concerns more often.
Kari Olson, a child care licensor for county social services, said the rise in filed concerns since 2009 follows an effort to inform the public of its right to report concerns and have them investigated.
“Everybody in general is realizing that there is an entity that can follow-up on a concern,” said Olson who has been with the county since 2000. “Child care in the past just wasn’t as out there in the public and there may have been concerns but we weren’t being told.”
In 2013, 36 concerns were investigated by county licensors and 14 concerns had been filed and investigated in 2014.
Olson said there are 125 home-based child-care providers and 14 child-care centers licensed in Grand Forks County.
The types of concerns filed with county social services vary by case and all are treated equally, according to Olson and Dawnita Nilles, another child-care licensor with the county.
“I don’t know that we see a certain type (of concern) more than others, it just runs the gamut of what’s out there,” Nilles. “All concerns are valid concerns and every parent parents differently and has a different level of expectation.”
Concerns vary in seriousness and the responses from licensors vary as well. In some cases, an investigation may not lead to any action by licensors because they couldn’t verify the concern.
For example, a client said in November that child-care provider Amy Puppe failed to adequately communicate with the client, according to county records. Upon investigation, no action was issued against the provider. Puppe could not be reached for comment.
A concern at Altru Family YMCA in May 2013 involved a lack of activities for children who could not sleep during nap time, county records show. Licensors investigated and found there was also inadequate lighting for adult supervision in the nap-time area.
After the investigation, Olson issued a corrective order asking YMCA to fix the problems.
“When a correction order comes up you could have been doing something for a long time and it could have been fine,” said Deb Thompson, director of the YMCA. “(Correction orders) help you reevaluate how you are doing something and push you to get better.”
Other reported concerns can be more serious.
Wonder Years had a concern filed against it in January after a tipster told licensors that a former staff member encouraged children to have agnostic and racist beliefs, according to county records.
“There are people we work with who don’t always meet what we want our staff to be,” Wonder Years owner Dan Polasky said. “We understand our staff is human, but there are times when we have to let them go.”
A staff member at All About Kids raised concerns in February after learning that another staff member would repeatedly touch his genital area and purposely provoke children to annoy them, county records show.
All About Kids put him on administrative leave. Olson later issued a memorandum of understanding stating the staff member was “restricted from being in the presence” of the facility, according to county records.
Jennifer Beck, owner and director of All About Kids, said the staff member was later fired.
“I like the system is in place,” she said. “Parents should know what’s going at child care (programs) and we try to be very open — it opens dialogue.”
Losing a license
In some cases, child-care providers lose their license.
A concern against child care provider Mary Stromquist in January involved a parent claiming Stromquist’s home smelled like marijuana. Licensors investigated and found that a care giver had tested positive on a drug test, according to county records.
Stromquist fired her promptly but Olson denied Stromquist a license renewal.
Stromquist said she has appealed in court after a police investigation concluded the allegations were unfounded.
“Every accusation was false and proven to be false and they still took my license away,” Stromquist said. “I’m being completely honest with (social services) because I don’t want to be accused of something like this.”
She said she has not received any notice regarding her appeal.
“The concerns are a good thing but it also isn’t because it can lead to allegations like in my case,” she said. “I understand (social services) have to do what they have to do, but my case was proved to be wrong and this still happened.”
A January concern against Amanda Hathaway claimed that she would leave children unattended and take naps while children under her care were present, according to county records. The county revoked her license.
Hathaway could not be reached for comment.
An investigation conducted in August 2013 indicated Veronica Burke was caring for more children than her license allowed. She did not know more than half of their names or parents’ names and was unable to provide enrollment records, according to county records. The county also documented hazard violations. Her license was revoked.
Burke could not be reached for comment.
The third concern that resulted in license revocation was filed in August 2013 against Brianne Mohn. According to county records, Mohn was found to take frequent and long smoke breaks while children in her care were present as well as taking naps during child-care program hours and leaving a 10-year-old to supervise the younger children. Instances of leaving the children alone in a hot car were also noted in the records.
Mohn said she did not feel comfortable talking about the incident and said she had no further comments.
Concerns reported to the county social services can come from anyone and are kept anonymous. By law, Olson, Nilles and other licensors must investigate and document each concern. The investigation becomes part of the child-care provider’s license history, which is available to the public for review.
“It’s important to recognize we have some high-quality care here in Grand Forks and, like any business, there are going to be some bumps of concern,” Nilles said. “You’re dealing with people and it’s not a perfect world.”
When a concern comes to Nilles or Olson, they make an announced visit to the provider’s program, interview the provider and others involved, and walk through the premises to check that general health and safety regulations are being met.
“Ultimately we’re working for the safety of kids and it’s a positive thing that child care is out there more in the public,” Olson said.
Since the start of 2013, there have been 25 concerns investigated in which no action was taken, meaning the concerns were unfounded. Another 15 concerns involved some sort of demand that the child-care provider make some changes. One concern led to denial of a license renewal and three concerns led to revoked licenses. Another two concerns are still under investigation.
Despite the concerns filed against Wonder Years, Polasky the owner said his business has not been affected much.
“People are people and make mistakes, and we try to take care of them and correct their behavior or just let them go,” he said. “There are going to be instances that are not ideal, just like any business.”
County investigations are useful because they ensure the company isn’t hiding anything from anyone, he said.
Similarly, child-care provider Tammy Lillemoen said the investigations are important in keeping children safe, even if the concerns turn out to be nothing.
In April 2013, a concern was filed against her alleging she left children alone for short periods of time while changing clothes in a separate room. Licensors issued a correction order.
“You’ve got to watch everyone,” she said. “(Social Services) have to follow suit and investigate.”
In the child care business for nearly 30 years, Lillemoen said reports documenting concerns about providers only make the industry stronger.
Nilles said when parents are searching for a child-care provider they should take advantage of the license history they’ve had, but that the files don’t always reflect the kind of care providers offer.
“The most important thing any parent can do is visit the child-care facilities, talk with the teachers, spend time on the floor playing with the kids and observing what they see going on in the environment” she said. “The most important thing is to be aware always of what’s going on.”
Interactive map: Click Here
In 2013 and 2014 through July 8, there were 46 concerns filed against child care providers in Grand Forks County. Click on the mapped pinpoints to find out more about what each concern was about and the outcome of county licencors' investigation.