Richland day care faces abuse claims

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 24, 2013 

A Richland day care shut down recently for failing to meet safety and operations standards now is facing allegations of abusing and neglecting children.

The Washington Department of Early Learning forced Aunt Bee's Honeycomb Child Care to close Friday after repeated problems with inspections and complaints about the facility, including allegations of unsupervised children, missing records and food safety issues.

The day care on Thayer Drive opened in October 2011 and failed to get a permanent license and was on its fourth preliminary license when it closed.

"You continue to repeat licensing violations and to fail to correct licensing violations, even when given assistance and support to help you understand how to remediate the issues," said state licensing supervisor Debbie Groff in a letter.

Reports of physical abuse and maltreatment of children followed the closure and the state is investigating, said Department of Early Learning spokeswoman Kara Klotz.

Officials with the Richland Police Department said they are not involved in any investigation of the child care center.

A phone number listed for owner Debbie Stacey was disconnected. A message left for another employee of the facility was not immediately returned Friday.

Klotz said state officials hand delivered a 13-page letter to Stacey last week, requiring she close the day care that day and for families pick up their children. The center's preliminary license allowed it to care for 39 children.

The letter outlines a litany of concerns since the facility's first inspection for a license in September 2011. Each subsequent visit by a state official yielded a list of violations, with cleanliness, food safety, availability of first aid supplies and how staff interacted with the children among the most frequently mentioned issues.

"A staff member in the preschool room ... was speaking in a loud voice, using inappropriate comments regarding a child's potty behavior, and stating "(child's name) is driving me crazy" in a loud voice," the letter stated.

Stacey also was regularly noted as not being present at the facility, including one period that lasted several weeks, according to the documents. State officials met with Stacey several times, including once with her husband, to correct the violations, documents state.

"You admitted that you struggled to comply with minimum licensing requirements and you stated that you understood you needed to comply with minimum licensing requirements," the letter stated.

Child Protective Services received a complaint of physical abuse of children at the day care on May 16. Another complaint of negligence or maltreatment of children was filed a few days later.

Klotz declined to comment on those cases because they are being investigated.

The day care's owners can appeal the state's closure until mid-June. Klotz said she was not aware if an appeal had been filed.

Families affected by the closure can get referrals for child care providers through Child Care Aware at bit.ly/childcarewa or by calling 800-446-1114. Information about child care centers, including inspections and complaints, is available at www.del.wa.gov/check.

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