ST. PAUL — A local Mankato child care provider is sharing almost 4,000 citations from public Department of Human Services data to highlight inconsistent, at times seemingly small citations given to child care centers across the state.
Elizabeth Bangert, director of Here We Grow in Mankato, highlighted eight years' worth of citations for about 300 licensed child care centers with lawmakers Wednesday in an effort to convince the Legislature to look into how DHS officials regulate child care.
Bangert and other child care providers argue DHS inspectors unevenly cite and fine providers for various infractions, some of which providers argue are frivolous.
"For years we have been saying these are things that are happening to us, but there wasn't any data," Bangert said.
She testified before the House Subcommittee on Child Care and Accessibility last week, where she discussed some of the citations she and fellow teacher Haylee Blauert found when poring through public DHS citations online.
Bangert became interested in how DHS regulates providers after she heard of several investigations in the area last year, which included a St. Peter facility cited for various paperwork issues and an inadequate amount of Play-Doh, among other things.
Here We Grow was investigated for maltreatment last October after a toddler fell 2 feet off of a slide at the child care center. Though the center was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, Bangert was cited for not updating the state on her married name — she was married three years ago.
That citation is supposed to come with a fine, but Bangert didn't receive one.
She points to other uneven citations and a lack of flexibility by inspectors as a major reason why Minnesota has lost almost 3,000 child care providers over the past seven years.
Some of the citations are for centers that don't include enough materials for children — a double-sided easel in every group room or enough art supplies and books. Some centers are cited for leaving some of those materials in storage closets if they aren't being used during the day. One child care center was cited for missing eight books from an infant room. And the list goes on.
Though the data only covers records between 2010 and the end of 2017 for about a sixth of the 1,809 licensed child care centers, Bangert thinks lawmakers and state officials should look into opening regulations this session based on what local providers have found thus far.
"Three hundred in, the story is not looking that great," Bangert told lawmakers Wednesday morning.
Republican Rep. Mary Franson, the subcommittee's chair, appears to agree with Bangert. She highlighted a few of what she called "horror stories" found within the data, such as a child care center citation for a staff member found drinking coffee in one of the play rooms.
Kim Leipold of the Association of Minnesota Family Child Care Licensors later testified lawmakers should be concerned about upholding some of those citations — a child had to be transported to Regions Hospital in St. Paul last week after suffering a coffee-related burn at a Dakota County child care center.
"There are reasons why this is happening," Leipold said.
Leipold suggested lawmakers, providers and state officials focus on coming together in future meetings to work out some of the issues between each group.
Bangert would like to see some action taken to resolve provider issues with DHS regulations, but she fears that work won't come soon enough. Though she's a child care consultant for providers in south-central Minnesota, Bangert said she's concerned about whether she can continue to work in the industry given the roadblocks she believes DHS officials put up for workers. And reviewing the data only makes her concerns grow.
"There were kids who were building near the wall with blocks and I considered asking them to move their block tower because I didn't want chipped paint," Bangert said. "This is impacting the lives of children and, from my perspective, this is why there's a child care crisis."
Bangert and Here We Grow staff plan to continue compiling citations from public DHS data. She said she and other providers are mulling a potential one-day walkout to demonstrate in front of the Capitol over the next month or two.