Monday, July 23, 2012

Dallas day care center remains open after child's death - WFAA

by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 23, 2012 at 6:48 PM

Updated today at 7:04 PM

DALLAS â€" Time has not numbed Ornetta Horton’s pain, two years after a monitor left her young son in a day care van on a hot September day.

“It hurts,” she told News 8 on Monday, surrounded by photos and mementos of her toddler, Sir Anthony Smith. “It hurts, and it still hurts to this day.”

In the years since his 2010 death, she’s painfully watched accounts of other children dying in other day care vans.

On Friday, another toddler  â€" three-year-old Benjamin Price  â€" died in an overheated day care van outside Little T’s Tiny Tots day care on South Buckner Boulevard in Dallas.

“You trust these people to watch your kids ‘til you get home,” said Benjamin’s grandfather, Donald Washington. “You expect them to be alive when you get off work.”

News 8 found Price is at least the fifth North Texas child to die since 2003 after being left behind in a day care van.

“It’s not right,” said Horton, who feels the punishment for forgetful child care providers is too lenient. “It’s more than negligence to me. The rules are not working.”

Child Care Licensing, part of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, requires day care operators to account for every child before a driver leaves a van.

Often following a death, the state revokes the day care’s permit, and police sometimes arrest the driver for abandoning or endangering a child.

Yet on Monday, three days after Benjamin's death, Little T’s Tiny Tots in Pleasant Grove remained open and no one from the facility has been arrested.

Both the state and Dallas police say they’re investigating.

Child advocates, however, worry the rules governing child care centers are simply not strong enough. Rarely are forgetful drivers sent to prison.

Horton said the day care attendant that forgot her child was sentenced to only five years' probation.

“Justice was not served,” she said. “I think he should have been sentenced to prison.”

Horton would like to see laws further strengthened, including the requirement of alarms installed on day care vans. The feature forces drivers to walk to the back of the van to silence the buzzer.

Although not required, several North Texas day cares have already installed the devices on their vehicles.

In 2009, child care laws were strengthened in the wake of the 2006 death of four-year-old Jacob Fox in a Dallas day care van. His mother, Avonda Fox, helped pass Jacob’s Law, which now requires day care drivers to take two additional hours of training before they are allowed to transport children.

“When you lose a child, it’s the most horrific thing,” said Fox, who is suing the state because she feels inspectors aren’t aggressive enough in closing troubled centers. The case is still in litigation.

Records show Little T’s â€" the site of Friday’s death â€" had 23 violations, with two of them considered serious. But the center remained open on Monday.

No one from Little T’s would comment to News 8, and the state said the violations weren’t particularly alarming.

“Based on the number alone, it seems fairly comparable to day cares of its size,” said Marissa Gonzales, spokesperson for Child Care Licensing.

In 2011, Texas revoked the permits of only 24 child care facilities out of more than 9,500 statewide. Gonzales said  the standards protect lives, and when investigators do find problems any punishment is swift and appropriate.

“We try to make sure that safety is enforced for all these children, and that we’re out here checking on a regular basis,” Gonzales said.

But Horton wants to know why children keep dying in hot day care vans.

“If they were working, this would have never taken place on Friday,” she said.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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