13 Investigates: Child care center concerns

Children Today Child Care Center was put on probation by the state Monday after inspectors found several critical violations. (WTHR Photo)

SHELBYVILLE (WTHR) – 13 Investigates is learning more and asking more questions about a daycare in Shelbyville that's facing serious scrutiny from the state.

Children Today Child Care Center is being put on probation because of multiple health and safety violations.

Families in Shelbyville who have children attending there are concerned because many are on vouchers.

They have limited money. They have to go to work. But this daycare has major violations.

Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration shared some options for them and for all parents.

They also explained why that facility is still open.

Photos of chipped paint, dirty floors, walls and ceilings are just part of why former workers describe a day care in Shelbyville as unsafe, unclean and unfit for children.

"It's nasty," said former employee Jennifer Debaun. "I would try to clean what I could with what we had."

"It's just unsafe. It's not a place I would send my children," added Stephanie Phares, another former employee who contacted 13 Investigates.

Out of approximately 5,000 child care providers in the state, Children Today is one of nine on probation right now.

The state put it on probation Monday.

Parents who have children attending that child care center will receive letters within the week, letting them know about the violations that caused probation.

"It's not a decision that we take lightly. It's something that we do only after we feel other attempts to correct issues haven't been successful," explained Nicole Norvell, FSSA Director of the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning.

13 Investigates discovered Children Today Child Care Center has had 137 violations over the last three years.

Ten of those are critical health and safety violations, including unsanitary conditions, maintenance problems, expired insurance on their van and an incorrect staff to child ratio.

"I was never trained the first day I was there, 16 kids by myself," Debaun said. "When the state came to inspect, they put the lunch lady in with me to have 16 kids with two of us."

Families have asked -- with all that going wrong -- why not just shut the place down?

"The reason we don't do that is because we know families depend on that so they can maintain their work, right? So if they don't have childcare, they can't go to work as adults. The objective for us is to make the program better to help them be successful so that families can take their children somewhere that they're safe, but really that they're learning and growing and we're helping prepare them for kindergarten," Norvell explained. "That's really the very last step for us. In most cases (when there are child care providers put on probation), programs have corrected those issues. In the chances where they've not and we've come back a second time, that's where you're going to see us start to take quicker action in terms of their ability to operate."

Children Today has until February 28 to come into compliance.

Meanwhile, concerned families tell 13 Investigates they fear they have nowhere else to go.

FSSA says all parents have options, including a child resource and referral agency for guidance, which can help set up interviews with and visits to daycare centers.

Parents can call 1-800-299-1627 for those resources.

The FSSA also has a child care finder online, which includes a mapping section to locate nearby child care providers.

"That website has a feature where you can put in your home address and your work address and it's going to tell you on your entire drive where all the child cares that you go by," Norvell said.

On the FSSA website, you can also read inspection reports, see violations and find out if any of those violations are critical, or in the red.

New federal regulations require that states prominently display critical violations.

If your child's facility has those, Norvell recommends you take action.

"It doesn't mean it's not a great place to maybe take your child, but it definitely means you should ask some questions," she said. "It means you should go, take a tour, and ask the director or licensee about their practices and ask them what happened, I saw this on here, can you explain it to me?"

That's what state inspectors will be doing in Shelbyville, at random, until they're sure children are safe.

The owner of Children Today told 13 Investigates he'll make changes.

But at least seven former employees say these problems have been happening for awhile.

They claim getting paid has been difficult too, with paychecks bounced when they tried to cash them.