How do you know your child's day care is safe?

March 4, 2011 4:32:39 PM PST
Officials with the Harris County Child Protective Services saw an increase in calls from parents after last week's child care home fire that killed four children and injured three others. Many are wondering how they can make sure their child's day care is safe.

Cassandra Jenkins is expecting her first child and she's considering child care for her son after he's born. And after last week, she feels her choice has never been more important.

"The availability of the staff? Can I call and be patched in to my child? Can I come up during the day if I'm working from home?" were some of the questions Jenkins was asking.

When four children died in a west Houston home day care, it alarmed so many parents who entrust their children's safety to caregivers. The business operated by 22-year-old Jessica Tata was a registered child care home open less than a year. Regulations allowed her to care for up to 12 children, depending on their ages, by herself.

It ended tragically when prosecutors allege she left the children alone to go shopping and left the stove on. Yet until that day, Tata was operating under the law. But CPS says parents should look beyond the requirements.

"Talk to parents who have children there, visit at different times of the day, ask questions and if those questions can't be answered, call the state," said Gwen Carter of CPS.

In 2010, the Houston region had 2,219 registered child care homes. Of those, 470 were investigated by a regulator and 15 had their permits denied or revoked.

Texas is said to be among only 11 states that don't require training for workers in child care homes -- for example before their business is registered. Licensed child care facilities operate under more requirements for staff training and for safety.

The owner of Stepping Stones Daycare in Pearland is on the advisory board of the Texas commission that oversees child care regulation.

"Rules and regulations are gonna change because of this and there's gonna be a lot of checking and making sure these home cares are on the up and up and they're doing what they're supposed to do," said Helen McWilliams.

Tata took a CPR course which was required before the registration could be granted. However, a juvenile arson conviction when Tata was 14, apparently went undetected in a Department of Public Safety background check.

For information on warning signs and how to research childcare homes and centers, go to