Nearly every parent will tell you there is nothing more important than their child’s safety. But do you really know what is going on at your child’s daycare?
Erin and Michael Whitmer call their son Noah a miracle child.
“He really is a miracle. I mean nobody thought, nobody thought he would be like this," Erin told FOX 5.
About a year ago, she was at work when she received the worst phone call of her life.
“A police officer got on the line ... He was there with homicide detectives and he thought my baby was going to die," said Erin.
Like working parents everywhere, the Whitmers chose their daycare for its location and price.
“Price was the hugest thing. You don't want to think you're putting a price on your child, but unfortunately, in this area, you have to," said Erin.
The couple picked an in-home daycare run by Trudy Munoz Rueda after seeing what they thought were impressive credentials.
“When we interviewed her, she had a full binder, one of those one and half inch binders full of certifications,” said Erin.
But just five weeks after Noah started daycare, the Whitmers found themselves in an emergency room being told their son’s brain was full of blood.
“This is not an accident; this was inflicted injury," said Michael.
A jury convicted Munoz Rueda of felony child abuse after investigators determined she shook Noah. Currently, he averages about twenty seizures a day, can’t speak and has trouble balancing. He is partially blind, forcing him to tilt his head up to see his mother.
“You hope for the absolute greatest for your son and now you realize that the absolute greatest for your son might just be normal. Might just be average. We hope for average," explained Erin.
When it comes to daycares, Virginia has seen its share of frightening cases this year. In March, a Dale City daycare provider was murdered by her ex-boyfriend upstairs, while her 12-year-old daughter watched over seven kids downstairs.
A one-year-old died in July after a Richmond daycare worker left him in a van for seven hours.
“I think the biggest assumption is that there's much oversight of these programs at all. So, when I talk to parents, I say do not assume anything," said Linda Smith, the executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies or NACCRRA, which rates states on how well they regulate daycares.
She said Virginia, Maryland and D.C. do well when it comes to inspecting large child care centers with multiple employees. But if your child goes to a smaller in-home facility run out or a private home, she said, it’s another story.
To see side by side comparisons of what each state does and does not require of its daycares and to search daycares:
State Rankings of Small "In-Home" Facilities:
State Rankings of Large "Child Care Centers":
A Guide to Asking the Right Questions When Choosing a Daycare:
Virginia Daycare Inspections:
Maryland Daycare Inspections:
D.C. Daycare Inspections:
D.C. does not post its inspection reports on-line. To request information, call the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education at 202-727-1839.
“I think in this area, Virginia is the concern,” said Smith.
NACCRRA ranked Virginia at the very bottom of its annual survey this year because it does not license or inspect daycares with five children or less. Smith said the people inside do not need to get a background check, a sex offender check, a child abuse check or any training whatsoever.
“And when I say training, I don't mean college courses in advance childhood development. I'm talking about has someone talked to them and trained them in first aid, CPR, basic child development," said Smith.
“We work very hard to make sure that children and facilities are safe and by and large, they are. There are some wonderful facilities out there,” said Brent Kennedy.
Kennedy is with Virginia’s Department of Social Services, which oversees daycare inspections. He said Virginia has one of the best online databases in the nation, where parents can quickly look up inspection reports.
“I think it’s been tremendously successful for both the Department of Social Services as well as consumers because consumers can easily go online and look at inspection history and compare facilities," explained Kennedy.
NACCRRA agree, but warns parents to watch out if “nothing shows up.”
“They assume that means there are no complaints. But guess what? They do not have to be on there because they don't have to be licensed. This is where parents get fooled on this stuff," said Smith.
The Whitmers said they did not know smaller in-home daycares are not required to be licensed by the state. It was only after Munoz Rueda went on trial did they learn she was not a U.S. citizen and had never been licensed or inspected by the state.
“My instinct now is not what anybody wants to hear. My instinct is not to trust anyone. Not trust anyone you wouldn't trust with your own life," said Erin.
Experts say parents should check both state and local references for any daycare they are considering. While Virginia did not require Munoz Rueda to be licensed since she had five or fewer children in her care, she did have a county permit. Just last month, a judge sentenced the daycare provider to more than ten years in prison in the Whitmer case.
Maryland and D.C. do much better in the rankings because they require inspections and training for both large and small daycares. But there are still problems.