Day care center in peril

Owner appeals license revocation amid allegations

Many parents back facility

Questions arise over child safety and understaffing

Millersville

January 12, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A Millersville day care facility could lose its license amid accusations that understaffing created an unsafe environment for its more than 100 children, some of whom reportedly were hit and bitten at the center, according to the state Child Care Administration.

The state revoked the license of Cloverleaf Child Development Center, in the 8200 block of Cloverleaf Drive, in September, based on about 100 violations and 20 complaints since 1997 regarding supervision and child protection. That is twice as many complaints as most other centers in the county file, said Barbara Rice, director of program standards for the Child Care Administration.

Lenora Porzillo, the center's owner, appealed the license revocation during an administrative hearing that ended Tuesday. An administrative law judge is expected to issue a decision within nine weeks. The center remains open during the administrative hearing process.

Among the violations the day care center was cited for by the state agency are an employee's striking a child on the back; an employee's instructing a child to bite another child; injuries not reported to the Child Care Administration; and unqualified staff members.

"We're concerned about multiple and repeated violations, which viewed in the volume and frequency could pose a risk to children," Rice said.

Porzillo said 28 employees are more than enough to operate the center, which cares for 110 to 120 children ranging in age from 8 weeks to 12 years. The staff includes one person with a master's degree, a registered nurse, a school crossing guard and college students, she said.

"There's no way that anyone can say we're understaffed and don't have enough qualified staff," she said.

Porzillo called the license revocation a "witch hunt."

"We're not perfect, and we have made mistakes," she said. "But there has never been a malicious intent to hurt a child. We have never shortchanged these children."

Robert Armstrong, the lawyer representing the center, said the large number of violations is "deceptive and unfair" because one situation could result in a number of violations, such as a staff member's not having the correct paperwork.

"To say there have been 100 noncompliances is really unfair," he said. "A lot of them were corrected on the spot or shortly thereafter."

Armstrong said some of the complaints were unfounded and those that were confirmed were "very minor in nature."

Rice said the Child Care Administration cannot always confirm complaints because the department is not always present to witness an incident. But she said concern arises with multiple complaints. "Then there's more of a probability that something is not working," she said.

Six parents and three former employees testified on behalf of the state during the six-day hearing, which stretched over three weeks.

Jennifer Jerez, of Pasadena, said she withdrew her 14-month-old daughter from the center after she was there for six days. She said her daughter was bitten twice by other children.

She said the center was understaffed and described it as "very chaotic."

Kim Dwarshuis of Arbutus, said during the three months her sons were at the center when she was living in Pasadena, they had 12 accident reports between them.

On the day she removed her sons, ages 1 and 3, from the center, both had pink eye, and the older son had fallen off the playground equipment and cut his forehead, she said. Earlier, the younger son hit his nose twice while using a sliding board, and the older son got a black eye from fighting with another child, she said.

"That place should definitely be closed down," she said. "It's not safe for children."

Despite such claims, Porzillo said "99.99 percent" of the parents are satisfied with the center.

Paula Robertson, of Severn, has been taking her 3-year-old son to the center since he was 4 months old. She said she trusts the staff so much that she also uses them to baby-sit her son at home.

"As a result of being here, he's never been sick or hungry or had diaper rash or anything like that," she said. "This place has been great."

Pam Bortner, 33, of Ferndale said she practically has to pull her 1-year-old daughter and 3-year-old nephew out of the center every day because they have so much fun.

She said the two children have never suffered injuries at the center and that her nephew enjoys it much more than his former day care.

Rice said that if the judge sides with the state, the day care center may appeal to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

She said that if the day care center's license is revoked, Porzillo may apply to open another center but that her history would be examined.

"We have a number of centers that go without any complaints at all," Rice said. "We don't usually have this number, and this was certainly something that raised our concerns."

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