LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Your tax dollars are funding a daycare that left a child sleeping in a hot car and hired staff members who falsified high school diplomas. The state knows about those problems and more but still hasn't shut the daycare down. In fact, Heavenly Angels Childcare Center is getting more taxpayer funding than ever before and I worked to find out why.
From afar, the name seems fitting: Heavenly Angels Child Care. But when I showed up to talk about hundreds of pages of serious safety violations the owners were less than angelic.
"We have no problems," said one man who identified himself as a co-owner of the daycare, but would not provide his name.
"Hey I don't want that camera on me man," he said to the WAVE 3 photographer documenting the encounter.
According to state records the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department obtained, state investigators cited Heavenly Angles for dozens of safety violations over the past year.
The violations included water temperatures in the pre-school bathroom that reached 140 degrees; sharp objects in children's reach; wires protruding from the fence around the playground and staff members who didn't have updated background checks for child abuse and neglect. But those weren't even the biggest problems.
Last June, the Kentucky Division of Regulated Child Care discovered seven staff members with falsified required high school equivalency diplomas. The state immediately placed Heavenly Angels on intermediate sanction, which is one of the most serious disciplinary actions short of shutting it down.
Things got even worse two months later, when investigators say a staff member left a child sleeping in the back of a hot van on an 86 degree day. Records reveal the child was left in the hot van between 50 minutes and two hours, and wasn't discovered until his mom came to pick him up. The report goes on to say co-owner Lavonia Lewers rushed the child inside, poured cold water on his face, then reached insider her pocket and handed $100 to the child's parent. The parent called Louisville Metro Police. A LMPD spokesperson said detectives are investigating and charges could be filed. Lewars wouldn't talk about the incident, saying it had already been addressed.
"We just have no comment," she said. Adding "we never had" any problems at the daycare.
But the state thought what happened was a big enough problem to suspend Heavenly Angels license to transport children, after finding out the driver that day had a speeding arrest on her record, making her ineligible to drive a daycare van. But once again, Heavenly Angles was allowed to remain open.
Gwenda Bond, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Division of Regulated Child Care, refused several requests for interviews in this story. In an email, Bond said they only shut a daycare down if there is an imminent threat to a child or if the center has a history of violations. Bond would not explain why the things that have happened at Heavenly Angles do not meet that criteria.
Lewars said the fact that her daycare has not been shut down by the state shows the problems are not major.
"If there was that much of a big problem sir, we would not be operating," Lewars said.
Heavenly Angels is not just operating, but it is thriving. State funding to Heavenly Angels to provide daycare for low income families has skyrocked - from less than $19,000 in February 2010 to more than $51,000 in April 2011. All of it is taxpayer money. In fact, business is so good Heavenly Angles wants to expand. Lewars told us she is planning to open another daycare, but is still waiting for approval from the state.
We saw state inspector Steve Simpson at Heavenly Angles collecting records. He told us he had been sent to audit Heavenly Angles records, but said Lewars did not produce everything he was searching for.
"That's it. That's all I could find," Lewars was overheard telling the inspector.
After the inspector left, Lewars said every daycare in Louisville has deficiencies and wanted it known the staff there believes state inspectors are picking on them because they're African-American. Lewars said children's safety is their first priority and called Heavenly Angles "one of the best daycare's in Louisville."
The state would not comment on Heavenly Angels failure to produce the records the inspector was looking for because it is an ongoing investigation. But on May 12, the state lifted the sanctions it placed on Heavenly Angles despite another inspection that turned up multiple safety violations just a few months earlier.
Here's what the state suggests parents do when researching the safety of their own child's daycare:
State law requires that statements of deficiency (SOD) for the current licensure year be posted and available for parents to view. If you wish to view additional information that is not posted at the center, contact the OIG office and make an open records request.
Read the "checklist for parents" located at the bottom of the Kentucky Office of Inspector General OIG Division of Regulated Child Care web site.
Become familiar with the minimum regulatory standards for licensed day care centers. These standards are also available from the web site.
Don't be afraid to talk with the director, staff in charge and other day care staff about your concerns. If you have reason to believe that your child is not safe or well cared for, make a complaint to OIG, to local law enforcement or to the Department for Community Based Services.
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