News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 17, 2014

Rising deaths at Indiana day cares raise alarm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers’ efforts to increase regulation of some home day cares might not do anything to stem a rising tide of deaths in child care facilities, critics say.

Lawmakers last week approved legislation that strengthens safety and reporting requirements at day cares that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers.

But Indiana will remain one of 11 states that exempts home day cares from being licensed if they take in five or fewer children, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The number of day care deaths jumped from one in 2011 to nine in 2012 and 11 last year. Of the 31 reported deaths, 21 occurred at unlicensed or illegal day cares, The Star reported.

Michelle McCready, senior policy adviser at Child Care Aware of America, said that statistic isn’t surprising.

“We see this trend way too often,” McCready said. “It seems obvious this is the nature of the unlicensing. It is not too great, and no one is inspecting these facilities, the operators are not being trained in safe sleep. Operators know if they add an extra child the state is not going to check in and see if they are following the laws.”

Sixteen of Indiana’s 31 known day care deaths occurred at illegally operating homes. One this year was in a home that in 2006 had twice been the subject of complaints that the operator, Amy Auld, was taking in too many children, according to the Bureau of Child Care.

Inspectors cited Auld for having more than five unrelated children. A subsequent visit found she was operating legally, so inspectors weren’t required to return to her home.

After a 3-month-old died at Auld’s unlicensed home on Feb. 26, attendance records at the house showed 13 children were present. Though the child’s death wasn’t ruled suspicious, the Bureau of Child Care sent Auld a cease-and-desist letter last week after an inspector found last week found 11 children present, including four under age 2 in a back room with the door closed and four 3- and 4-year-olds sleeping in an upstairs loft.

The bureau has ordered Auld to either become licensed or only care for five or fewer unrelated children and has asked Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office to close the day care.

Auld did not respond to a request for comment.

Two other day care deaths have been reported this year. One involved a 3-month-old boy who died Jan. 21 at a licensed day care home from “asphyxia due to aspiration of solid food into larynx and trachea,” according to the Tippecanoe County coroner. The death was ruled accidental. On March 4, a 17-month-old girl died from smoke inhalation from a fire at a licensed day care in Sullivan.

Marni Lemons, spokeswoman for the Family and Social Services Administration under which the Bureau of Child Care operates, said parents should check the status of their child’s day care. She noted that state inspectors can’t check to see if unlicensed home day cares are breaking the rules unless someone raises a concern.

“If you are taking your children to a residential child care, and there are more than five children including your own,” Lemons said, “ask to see the license.”

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