TULSA — The state Department of Human Services needs to do more to protect children in day care, a state House committee was told Thursday during a hearing that often drew tears and disagreement. Legislators were told emergency orders to shut down operations should be done faster, that the DHS should conduct annual checks of day care providers' driving records, licenses and insurance verification, and that day care records should be posted online and at the day care. The DHS also was criticized by a relative of a 2-year-old boy who died in Tulsa. Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, called for an interim study after the death of 2-year-old Joshua Minton. Joshua died in a hospital after being found with his mouth taped and his hands bound at a Tulsa day care. Vicki Chiles, the day care's owner, told police she taped Joshua because he would not be quiet during nap time. She is charged with first-degree murder. "Children are our future. If they are not top priority, then neither is our future,” Joshua's great-aunt Atonda Minton told the committee. "Right now, we are in charge of their day care. Someday they are going to be in charge of our nursing home.” Joshua's family and others were upset that Chiles was able to operate even after she admitted striking a special needs child in April. She was charged with felony abuse of a minor child on May 16. The next day, DHS staffers came to ask Chiles to voluntarily close her business but when they arrived, Joshua was already dying. The next day after that visit, DHS officials served Chiles in the Tulsa County jail with an emergency order to shut down. "I think it's appalling that it takes that long,” Atonda Minton said. "My nephew would be alive today if somebody had done something when that woman admitted the abuse on April 10.”
State reportThe committee also was given a report by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, the state agency that oversees the DHS. The report states Chiles was first found noncompliant on Aug. 29, 2003, because she did not have enough caregivers and her home was not free of hazards. Janice Hendryx, the Commission on Children and Youth's director, said the study was conducted because of Joshua's death, but its findings could apply to many cases. Her agency recommends checks of driving records the posting of day care records at the facilities and online. Some legislators said it appeared the rules are lenient and favor owners like Chiles. They were told by Hendryx that the DHS should have issued an emergency order before Joshua's death. DHS Director Howard Hendrick said new rules, which DHS has approved and are waiting for the governor's approval, are steps to respond to the tragedy, but that more can be done. He said the House study could provide further changes. He cautioned against making rules too aggressive. "You drive people into underground care and then you don't have anybody to go in there and check on these kids,” he said.
What they're sayingRick Kerr, a Lawton owner and operator of six day care centers, said owners should not have to post what an employee did if they are fired. Kerr said some day cares might hide violations if they are the ones responsible for posting them. He also said the new rules might entice investigators to reach conclusions before they have enough evidence. Casey Moore, an assistant administrator with the Child Care Resource Center in Tulsa, took issue with Kerr's assertion that owners should not have to post what former employees have done. "If you don't want to post that, I would feel you are willing to hide something from me,” she said. "That doesn't show you have my child's best interest in mind. It's hard for me to hear an owner and director say, ‘I'm worried about losing my income.' Well, I'm worried about losing my child.'” Peters, the committee chairman, said he was pleased with the hearing and will ask Gov. Brad Henry to sign the proposed rules. "This hearing is about our kids and doing everything we can do to make sure our kids are safe,” Peters said. Contributing: Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau
AT A GLANCEThe Department of Human Services approved emergency rules on July 24. Once Gov. Brad Henry approves them, they will go into effect Oct. 1. Those include: •A requirement for DHS to decide in one business day whether to close a day care if a licensing specialist or supervisor recommends an emergency order. •A requirement for day care owners to post summaries of DHS investigations confirming abuse or neglect in clear view of their main entrances for 120 days. •A requirement for day care owners to provide files to parents on DHS inspections within 120 days from the time the files are requested. Next: Henry should approve the rules, a spokesman said Thursday.