By Ashley Luthern
It took more than three years, but a child-care center that had repeated serious violations from the state has shut its doors.
Jump Start Child Development Center on Wick Avenue in Youngstown first received notice Aug. 14, 2009 that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services was planning to revoke its child-care license. The notice was nine pages and detailed violations going back to 2006.
“This isn’t a step we take lightly. It’s fairly standard that it would take repeated serious violations for us to finally move to close a center down,” said Benjamin Johnson, JFS spokesman.
Of the roughly 4,400 child care centers and large in-home child care providers in Ohio, only three have proposed license-revocations pending, he said.
Johnson said JFS works with centers to bring them into compliance. If violations continue, then JFS sends the intent to revoke notice, and centers can request a hearing to object. If, after the hearing, JFS continues the process to revoke the license, a center then can appeal to the county court system.
Johnson said Jump Start did not request a hearing, so JFS proceeded and issued the license revocation in October 2009. Then Jump Start filed a motion in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to keep its license, and that court case was ongoing until July 2012 when it was dismissed. Jump Start had a period of time to appeal the court decision, and once that window closed, JFS moved to close the center, effective Sept. 14.
The Vindicator tried several phone numbers to reach Janell Howell, Jump Start’s administrator, but the lines had been disconnected.
Johnson said JFS reminded Jump Start that it was losing its license about a week before the center closed.
“We did contact the [Mahoning] County JFS to let them know that children in the publicly funded child-care program who attended Jump Start would be coming back to the county and need a new place to go,” Johnson said.
Jump Start continued to receive taxpayer money via government assistance for children whose families qualified.
“The centers are entitled to due process, and the review, or as we call it, enforcement, is part of that process,” Johnson said.
Records of child-care centers’ license inspections are available online at jfs.ohio.gov.
“We try to make it as easy as possible to search,” Johnson said. “Our inspections are very thorough and not every noncompliance is a reason not to send your child. Some are paperwork errors and things that need to be cleaned up but don’t directly impact the health and safety of a child.”
Serious violations are marked in red, such as background checks. There is a separate field coded in blue called “statement of non-conviction” of employees.
“The statement of non-conviction is paperwork and not the actual background check so we don’t feel that is serious risk, but not having the criminal background check is,” Johnson said.
Jump Start repeatedly failed the criminal background check of the license inspection by either falsifying records or not having them on file, according to JFS inspection records and correspondence. Other violations related to property conditions — mouse feces found in the infant room and a jagged metal strip poking up from the floor — and child supervision.
During one inspection visit, an infant was left unattended on a climbing apparatus and lost his balance, falling head-first to the floor, according to the records.
Johnson said parents and guardians should take the same steps anytime a child is in the care of another.
“Talk to the facility, see if you can get references from people who currently send their children there. Make sure it’s a place where you feel comfortable leaving your child,” he said.
If anyone has any concerns about a center, he or she can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 877-302-2347 and dial 4.
“From time to time, we get providers that say ‘You keep coming out to investigate the same complaint, and it’s a disgruntled former employee.’ That’s unfortunate, but we must and we will investigate every complaint,” Johnson said.
If complaints are founded, JFS will work with the center to correct the problem.
“We are not in the business of shutting down child-care providers. ... We want to fix the problem so they can continue to provide what is a very important service in communities around the state,” Johnson said.