SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - After a four year-old boy was allegedly roughed-up at a local child care facility, ABC 4 Utah learned some things about state licensing regulations (or lack thereof) that may surprise parents.
ABC 4 Utah News cameras captured warm smiles and friendly greetings, as a receptionist showed people in to a seemingly secure VASA Fitness Kidcare center in Orem. At the other end of the room, children sat happily making crafts with the help of another employee.
The constructive scene at the facility that day is a stark contrast from one a concerned parent captured on his cell phone in Riverton. His footage shows a boy screaming and swinging at another child, with no adult attendant in sight.
"The attendant was sitting at the desk with her back turned to the children," recalled Lori Reed, a VASA Fitness member, who says that was also the case the day a child attacked her own son. "He got drug from one end of the daycare to the other end by his shirt, on the side of his face," Reed said during an interview with Good 4 Utah's Ali Monsen.
Reed says she went to pick up four year-old Noah after her hour-long workout at VASA Fitness in Riverton and found a chaotic room full of 20 plus children and only one adult employee, who was on her cell phone.
"My son's in the corner with his shirt ripped, hanging off of him, red marks all over his neck, his ear was all red..." she recalled. "It's upsetting," Reed explained.
VASA Fitness Director of Childcare Tiffany Barney agrees the attack should not have happened. She also says she enforces a strict 'no cell phone' policy with her employees.
"We expect [employees] to step out of the day care or into one of the restrooms to [use cell phones]," Barney clarified.
Barney says she also tries to keep VASA Kidcare centers at a 1:12 adult-to-child ratio and a 1:4 adult-to-infant ratio, although she does not have to.
"Licensers aren't stopping in twice a year to go through the rules," Barney explained.
Turns out, VASA's facility falls under state regulators' "unlicensed child care" category, along with most other so-called 'drop in day care' centers at gyms, grocery stores, religious institutions, and schools, for a couple of reasons:
"A -- The parents stay on-site while the care is being provided, and B -- they're not providing care for children for more than four hours per day, so those places are exempt from child care licensing requirements," said Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for Utah Child Care Licensing at the Utah Dept. of Health.
Hudachko says those facilities are also exempt from routine health department inspections and disciplinary action if someone reports a problem.
"If we go out and determine [that an unlicensed facility is operating] legally without a license, there's really nothing more that we can do," he explained.
Though VASA chooses to screen prospective employees with background checks, unlicensed facilities are technically not required to do that either. It is something, officials say, many parents may not realize before turning over their children to strangers.
Barney says it is not something VASA necessarily advertises.
"Instead, we list all of the things that we do do..." Barney said. "We try to provide crafts for the kids, sometimes they do yoga," she listed among several other wholesome activities.
Barney says her "VASAwesome" kidcare facilities do keep an admission agreement on file for every child that joins. When something bad happens, she says attendants fill out incident and behavior reports they have parents of the involved children sign, before scanning into VASA's system. The documents also detail whether a child who acted out will face any kind of suspension.
"Unfortunately, there are children that we've suspended indefinitely," Barney said.
ABC 4 learned that in Noah's case, the boy who hurt him did face a two-week suspension, but Barney says Noah's incident report did not state anything about staff members being on their cell phones.
"We definitely would've immediately started redirecting staff [if that was the case]," she explained.
Barney's suggestions to parents are to always read over incident reports at any child care facility, and to feel free to add information to them.
"They can write next to [whatever the attendant wrote] any other things that they feel like need to be on this report that maybe we overlooked," she pointed out.
Reed says doing that likely would not have changed the outcome for Noah.
"Noah won't go back. He's too scared to go back," she explained.
Now, his mom is warning parents who do use drop-in-daycare to 'know before you go.'
"Do your research, find out the ratios, pop in unexpected," she explained.
If you are unsure about whether a certain child care center is licensed, a good resource is careaboutchildcare.utah.gov. The site also allows parents to look at a five-year inspection history for licensed facilities to see what kinds of problems they have had in the past.
VASA Fitness allowed ABC 4 Utah into its Orem facility because program directors say it is important for the public to understand how child care licensing works in Utah. They say parents are always welcome to tour kidcare centers and that employees are always happy to answer questions.
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