SAN DIEGO — Day care professionals often wonder about parents who leave their children in homes that have obvious problems. But many parents feel trapped and are apparently just hoping for the best.
Meg Halloran, a state attorney who prosecutes day care violations for the Department of Social Services, said it never fails to surprise her that some parents will stand behind their day care provider when the state tries to revoke the license or close the home for a serious accident or abuse.
Mark Lane, a local day care supervisor, explains the phenomenon this way: parents who leave their children at a dangerous or low-quality home are compelled to rationalize and justify their choice by defending the provider.
"It's typical, we see it all the time," Lane said. "There are a lot of people who are just dumping their kids. Even when they're parents who care . . . people don't see what they don't want to see."
Steve Scott, assistant director of recreation at the Spring Valley Recreation Center, kept his two children at the home where 15-month-old Jessica Herron drowned June 18 in an unfenced, uncovered hot tub. The state has closed the home.
"I knew the tub was there; it was the first thing she (the provider) told us," said Scott, who hopes to return his 10-month-old and 4-year-old there. "It didn't bother me; I talked to my daughter about never playing around it.
"I didn't know about the regulations (requiring that bodies of water be fenced or covered) but it wouldn't have made any difference to me."
He called the provider a "loving person" whose clean, comfortable home and warm family offered a good atmosphere for his children.
"That's what most parents look for," said Veronica Welch, a psychologist and head of the San Diego Childcare Coordinating Council.
"When it comes to selecting a home, the final issues for parents is whether it is a safe place and 'can I feel good about this person?' A lot of parents never even ask about a license."
"I don't understand the attitude of some parents," said Jean Brunkow of the Childcare Resource Center, which tries to educate parents about choosing good day care. "I do know working parents need a lot of support. Some need help to pay for good child care and some need psychological support to meet the requirements of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their children."
Jolene Miller, a working single parent of a 5-year-old daughter, said she developed reservations about her child's longtime day care home but that she "put up with them because at least I knew the faults; when you go somewhere else you don't know."
She said she moved her daughter to a preschool after the provider continued to keep 10 children instead of the six her license permitted.
"When they (the county) came to inspect, they called her first, so she just stashed the children down the street at a neighbor's house," Miller recalled. "My daughter was one of them. Then she had a new boyfriend coming over a lot. I didn't say much about it, though. I didn't want to upset things until I could find a new place to go."
"The relationship between parents and providers is very unique. There is no other in which you pay someone for a service that has such emotional involvement," said Welch.
"There's nothing more disruptive or stressful than finding child care. When you do find a situation you think will work out, you heave a sigh of relief and hope for the best. Some hope so badly that it will work out that they probably overlook situations and problems they shouldn't."