Online inspection results for child care criticized

Database incomplete, misleading, providers say of statewide effort

January 31, 2009|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Maryland has launched a new government Web site that gives consumers access to inspection results for thousands of licensed child care providers, but critics of the site say it is incomplete and unfair to the industry.

The Maryland State Department of Education's Office of Child Care created the online database, which indicates whether a child care operator was found compliant with 86 criteria in a "yes" or "no" format, and if the inspection was an announced or unannounced visit.

The site allows users to search by company name, jurisdiction and type of provider for results going back about two years. It covers roughly 2,700 licensed day-care centers and nearly 9,000 home-based child care providers, officials said.

In Baltimore, the site offers results of 889 inspection reports for day-care centers and home-based child care providers. In Baltimore County, the results of more than 2,000 inspections are available.

State officials said they are not yet able to provide full inspection reports online, but they wanted to start making information available to the consumers so they could better research providers. But providers said the online reports do not indicate the steps they take to address any problems discovered during an inspection.

"We just feel that it's not giving us a fair shake right now, by not providing all the information that parents need in order to make that informed decision," said Jennifer Nizer, president of the Maryland State Child Care Association.

Phil Koshkin, chief of research and evaluation for the state's division of early childhood, helped develop the online tool and said in an interview yesterday that it is meant to be used by parents as a "snapshot in time." He said the information that is available online are the results of the "primary" report that inspectors complete.

When an inspector finds a violation, more detailed information is included in a report, and the provider has a varying amount of time to correct the violation, he said.

"We encourage parents not to take that online report as the be-all and end-all," Koshkin said. "This is just an indicator, a snapshot in time, and we do encourage parents to follow up and contact the provider and discuss the inspection report."

"It's not a full loaf, but half a loaf is better than none," Koshkin said.

Carol Corbett, director of the Weekday Early Education Center, faulted the state for rushing to put out incomplete data that was unfair to providers who have been diligent in their responses to inspections.

"I really think it's a good idea to put this stuff online, but it's incomplete, and it's not fair to the hardworking people in this profession," Corbett said. She said an inspector cited her center twice in October 2007, for child records management and disease prevention. The records issue involved emergency information for five children, and the citation for disease prevention involved a tear in a diaper pad, she said.

Both were fixed within 24 hours, she said, adding that the response and the context of the problems are missing from the online site.

Corbett and other providers pointed to Virginia's online database of day-care providers as a model that Maryland should follow. The Virginia Web site lists reports, details and narratives about violations and the steps the providers took to fix them.

Koshkin said the state eventually wants to offer far more information online to consumers but will need new technology to make it possible. Day-care inspectors now fill out reports on paper, he said, and only some of that information can be easily transferred to a database. He said his agency launched a pilot project last week that will eventually equip inspectors with hand-held computers so they can instantly input information digitally during inspections.

"One major goal is to have an online report that is sufficiently detailed and a lot more flexible than what we have now," Koshkin said.

online

Find child care inspection results at http://msdecompliancereports.org

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