Day care center faces closure State agency cites history of violations over past two years

August 01, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Citing dozens of violations over the past two years, the state's Child Care Administration (CCA) has moved to shut down the WeeCare Children's Center in Severna Park, which serves hundreds of children.

Kenneth Looney, the center's owner, has appealed the action, blocking the license revocation until an administrative hearing is held.

The hearing, initially set for Aug. 24, has been postponed due to a request from Mr. Looney, who was on vacation and unavailable for comment. A new hearing date has not been set.

State administrators, who oversee 130 centers and 1,100 family day-care providers in Anne Arundel County, said WeeCare, in the Park Plaza Shopping Center, is not being singled out unfairly.

Jacqueline Bennett, a regional manager for CCA, said the administration rarely takes such severe measures against a licensed day care center.

Since 1988 when CCA was established, it has moved to shut down a center in Anne Arundel County only three times.

The CCA cites a history of violations dating to 1991. Many are repeat violations, indicating the center wasn't committed to complying with regulations, the agency said.

Specific violations include:

* Accepting children under the age of 2, when the center is licensed only for children 2 and older;

* Leaving hazardous substances, such as cleaning fluids, within the reach of children;

* Using an unlicensed play area in another building for children enrolled in the day care center;

* Inadequately supervising children, including one incident in which a 4-year-old boy was left unattended in the outdoor playground area across the street from the center. A passer-by returned the child to the day care center.

A file at the Child Care Administration also details numerous administrative violations, such as inadequate emergency forms and permission slips for children. During unannounced inspections, regulators wrote up WeeCare for as many as 25 violations in a single visit.

Lisa Lockwood, executive director of the center, said the staff takes issue with most of the complaints, characterizing them as administrative nitpicking. State regulations are not set up with a center such as WeeCare in mind, she said. WeeCare offers extended hours and drop-in service for parents, which other day care centers do not provide.

Although she acknowledged some of the complaints were justified, staff members have worked hard to correct the problems, she said.

"We're convinced that if an impartial person hears the complaints, we'll prevail," she said. "We don't feel anything we've done warrants shutting us down."

Some parents with children in the center agreed.

petty bickering and politics," said Steve Andrews of Severna Park, who has two children enrolled. "I find the whole thing absolutely ridiculous. The state doesn't like the way they offer services, so they're going to shut them down . . . They're really punishing the parents."

"We as parents are insulted by what they're doing," said Ahni Sallaway of Annapolis, who has a 4-year-old daughter at the center. "We're all professionals. It's as if they think we'd put our children in an unsafe place.

"I'm very picky and I feel strongly about having a safe place for my daughter. I think it's horrible what they're doing."

But other parents gave mixed reviews.

Lynn Adams, who has 3 1/2 -year-old twins at the center, said things have improved in recent months and that she likes the current director.

But she has had concerns in the past, such as medication being improperly dispensed and the owner of the day care center failing to respond to phoned-in complaints.

Her most recent complaint was in March, when her baby sitter went to pick up her children while she was on a business trip in New York.

"She just walked in and walked out with the kids. They didn't know her and no one asked her a thing," she said. "My baby sitter was so upset when she got home, she called me in New York to complain."

Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services which oversees CCA, said state officials are more interested in bringing the center into compliance than shutting it down. She said it is feasible WeeCare could demonstrate complete compliance and ward off further action by the state.

But given the center's history, she said, it's "within the realm of possibility" but not probable. In the meantime, the state will move ahead with the license revocation procedure.

Ms. Lockwood said the center would fight the closure with whatever it takes. If the center fails to come to an agreement with the state before the hearing and then loses its case in an administrative appeal, it intends to take the case to circuit court.

"We're in this for the long run," she said. "We're not giving up."

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