SAN DIEGO — Who's watching your children? Most of San Diego County's children who re cared for while their parents work are in day care homes. many child care experts say such homes can be enriching experiences for children, thbut there are many problems locally.
Today, in the third of a four-part series, the process of revoaction of a day care license is explained.
A San Diego woman operating a licensed day care home is reported "on more than one occasion" and acting in consort with a male companion to have sexually molested a child.
Prior to her arrest on a string of child abuse counts, she cared for a maximum of six children in the home.
In another case, a La Mesa woman yanked and twisted the arm of a child under the age of 5. Such abuse resulted in a fracture, not only of the child's arm but also of the woman's day care license. Without commenting on her guilt or innocence, she failed to challenge the revocation.
In still another case, a Poway man petitioned for and received a day care license despite the fact that four years earlier he had been convicted in Arizona of attempted sexual abuse. The arrest was overlooked for a reason. A year after his conviction, the decision was reversed and the man's record was expunged from Arizona police files.
Eight months after getting the day care license, the man was arrested in San Diego for having sexual contact with a girl of 14. He and his wife (who shared the license) failed to challenge the revocation, and as far as the state knows, they no longer run a day care home.
These are just three cases, but they are the three most recent "revocation" cases in San Diego County, according to the state Department of Social Services, which oversees the licensing of day care homes. These were three "right off the top," as one administrator put it, and all are related to abuse.
Many Questions Arise
Why were such people granted licenses in the first place? Why were they drawn to children? And why is no agency actively making sure that none of these people practices day care after the license is taken away?
Walt Proffitt oversees the licensing of day care homes in San Diego. He's an administrator with the county Department of Social Services, which works on a contract basis with the state. Asked whose job it is--that of police or the county--to make sure a revoked licensee isn't practicing day care, Proffitt said quietly, "Neither."
He explained, "Once we've closed a home, we assume it's no longer doing day care . . . unless we get a complaint. Once we revoke a license, we don't check to see if they're back in business." Such a practice would, of course, be highly illegal--which isn't to say, Proffitt noted, that it isn't done.
The fact that some licensed day care providers end up as child abusers is, in the words of Cindy Zook, "Appalling." Zook is senior social work supervisor of the 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline (560-2191 in San Diego, ZEnith 7-2191 in North County). The hot line was set up in 1980 as part of a state and federal mandate ordering such a service in virtually every city in the country.
Zook said no current data measures the number of child abuse cases occurring in day care homes. She noted, however, that licensed professionals who come in contact with children--psychologists, police officers, doctors and nurses --are required to report evidence of child abuse. Of 26,200 cases in San Diego County in 1983, only 83, Zook said, were reported by day care personnel--a figure she called alarmingly low. (She added that statistics breaking down who reports the abuse have since been dropped.)
Kathleen Norris, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, said the problem of child abuse in day care homes had become "much more dramatic" with the recent wave of publicity about abuse, including the ongoing McMartin Preschool case in the Los Angeles area.
All seven revocations of day care licenses in San Diego County in 1984 were tied to child abuse, she said.
Waiting for the Crime
"The problem with having this happen in day care facilities is a difficult one to address in advance," she said. "You can't close a place down before it happens. The fact that it comes to light after it happens is just the way it is. If there was a way to prevent it before it happened, great. The best way is still education--of parents, day care providers and staff and, of course, of society in general."
Harry Elias, head of the new child abuse unit of the San Diego County district attorney's office, said it is "just common sense" that a child abuser could end up in a day care home.
"If that's what they want to do, they're gonna locate where they have the availability," he said. "It's like a con man working his way into a bank, or a commodities market."
Elias said that reported cases "tend to make people aware. Awareness breeds efficiency and concern, the main thing we're in business to accomplish."