PASCO -- For almost four minutes on a recent afternoon, a 16-month-old boy was left on his own outside a Pasco day care that his parents had trusted to keep their child safe.
Ashley Brown, the boy's mother, said she was appalled as she watched a video showing her son, Corbin, walking just behind his teacher as his class returned inside JigsawKids Preschool after outdoor play time.
"He's right behind her and the door shuts," she said. "She let the door shut."
Brown has sent a complaint to the state Department of Early Learning, which oversees licensing of child care facilities. It's the seventh against the year-old company.
Since opening Feb. 1, 2010, JigsawKids had been named in six previous complaints, and state investigations concluded one or more violations likely occurred in all six cases.
JigsawKids co-owner Scott Murray Thomason told the Herald there has been a steep learning curve to opening such a large child care center, which houses 140 children and has 25 staff members.
He also said that many of the problems have been related to high staff turnover.
"The real complexity is getting the staff ingrained into what is most important -- the procedures, knowing the Washington Administrative Code," Thomason said. "It's just getting everyone into a rhythm where everyone is working as a team and everyone is doing what they should be doing. It's very complex, and any time you're dealing with children, everything is immensely more complex."
Elizabeth Winter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Early Learning, said it's not unusual for a child care center to have complaints and violations in its first year of operations.
But she said state officials have concerns about JigsawKids because of the amount of state staff time spent helping it learn the rules.
"We do have some concerns. Certainly we have been providing them all sorts of technical assistance," Winter said.
New centers get what's called an initial license -- kind of like a probationary period -- when they open. That license lasts for six months and can be renewed three times for a total of four initial licenses.
Winter said once a center goes through four initial licenses, it either goes on to be fully licensed or gets shut down.
JigsawKids is on its third initial license, which is set to expire in July.
"Facilities do have more than one initial license. That in itself is not super uncommon," Winter said.
She said the department walks a tightrope between protecting children and treating license-holders fairly.
"If any of the things we found was an imminent risk to kids, no matter what's going on, we have the option to suspend their license right away," Winter said.
Documents the Herald obtained from the state about the complaints against JigsawKids show a range of allegations from hygiene concerns stemming from staff changing diapers on linoleum floors to working while infected with pink-eye, to overcrowded classes and improper supervision.
One complaint involved two toddlers escaping through a gate with a malfunctioning latch and being gone for 12 minutes. The children reportedly were found by staff at a nearby bank.
Feb. 18, 2010
A toddler's grandmother reported hearing Claudia Thomason, JigsawKids co-owner and director, making inappropriate comments to a child, including, "Your diaper is so stinky that it makes me want to puke." She also was aggressive in wiping a child's nose, documents said.
The comments and aggressive actions weren't confirmed by the investigator, but Thomason reportedly told the investigator on April 21, 2010, that she was "overwhelmed" and often ended up providing child care or cleaning rather than focusing on running the center.
The complaint resulted in a finding that Thomason likely had violated a regulation stating that a center director must not let the provision of child care interfere with management or supervisory responsibilities.
A corrective action plan included hiring a site supervisor, assistant supervisor and chief financial officer to help with management.
March 17, 2010
A former employee complained about the staff-to-child ratio at the center and lack of emergency backup for staff.
Documents said the employee was hired as a teacher's aide but immediately was put in a classroom by herself with 10 children ages 4 to 5 years old and given cleaning duties in addition.
In one instance, a child started bleeding and the staff member had no one to call to tend to the other children while she helped the bleeding child.
She also told state investigators she never had been given a safety orientation of the building or told where fire extinguishers or a first aid kit were.
The investigator found the complaints about ratios, lack of backup and doubling up on cleaning and child care duties were valid, but that the claim about lack of orientation was not.
The center appealed the finding and responded that the staff-to-child ratios never were higher than regulations allow, but the finding was upheld in a review.
July 23, 2010
Two former employees reported seeing Thomason aggressively grab a 2-year-old by the arm and slam the child down on her bottom and yell at staff members in front of children.
Those allegations were found to be invalid after other staff members failed to confirm them, but the investigator again found the center had violated class ratio requirements based on the investigator's observations.
A corrective action plan noted staff had begun using walkie-talkies to notify each other when ratios were close to being exceeded.
July 26, 2010
A parent reported that her 4-year-old child who had a known speech delay -- he could make sounds but not words -- was denied water because he was deemed to be misbehaving.
The boy reportedly had expressed his need for water by pushing and shoving but was told to go to the end of the line, documents said.
The complaint was deemed valid and the discipline inappropriate given the child's disability.
A corrective action plan said staff members completed additional training.
Aug. 25, 2010
Two toddlers left through an unlatched gate while their teachers' backs were turned. It took five minutes before the teachers realized they were missing.
Several minutes later, staff at nearby Wells Fargo Bank called to ask if any children were missing. The children were outside the bank on Burden Boulevard, documents said.
Owner Scott Thomason told the investigator that teachers knew the latch sometimes didn't work, and they should have been more aware. But the teachers interviewed said they had asked Thomason to fix the gate and he had not.
Thomason voluntarily closed the center for a few days after the incident until he could meet with state officials. He also sent a letter to parents telling them what had happened and offering to let them watch a DVD from video surveillance cameras on the property.
He told the Herald on Friday that the latch since has been fixed and an alarm installed on the gate, and staff members have gone through additional training.
Winter said the voluntary closure stopped the state from immediately suspending JigsawKids' license. "They worked with us," she said.
But, she added, "That is a big no-no if kids are going toward a busy street."
Sept. 10, 2010
A teacher who was fired complained about having to clean up feces in a bathroom when she was the only one watching a group of children. She also made other allegations children had gone temporarily missing, either escaping through the unlatched gate or turning up in the wrong classroom.
The investigator reported that staff interviews indicated some staff members were changing diapers on a linoleum floor and that staff complained about lack of training.
Another staff member reported a staff member told her supervisor one day that her eye hurt and she thought she had pink-eye. The employee reportedly was told to stay at work.
Findings were made that staff were not properly oriented, that supervision rules had been violated when staff members were required to perform cleaning duties in addition to child care, and that the pink-eye incident was a health and sanitation violation.
March 16, 2011
Winter confirmed that Brown's complaint had been received and is under investigation.
Brown told the Herald that she was most frustrated that no one from the center had called to apologize for her child being left outside.
Although the video shows her son remained calm, she fears what could have happened while the toddler was left alone. "He could have climbed on anything. He could have gotten hurt," she said.
She since has placed him in another day care. And this time, she checked it out first using the Department of Early Learning's website.
The site contains a searchable database that shows if a child care center has had valid complaints and what regulations were violated.
"The website ended up being really helpful," Brown said. "Had I known about that before, I definitely would have asked more questions."
Scott Thomason said the incident with Brown's child was an unfortunate mistake, and JigsawKids has been working hard to improve.
"A lot of this comes back to staffing," he said. "It only takes one weak link in the chain to cause a problem."
* On the net: apps.del.wa.gov/check/CheckSearch.aspx