In the aftermath of the conviction of Greg Kelley in 2014 for sexually assaulting a four-year-old boy in a daycare, some Cedar Park City Council members say additional local regulations may be needed to keep children safe.
“It offended me that children in Cedar Park were being put into the proximity of convicted criminals,” said Place 2 Council Member Corbin Van Arsdale. “I’m not sure if the city has a role in regulating day care facilities, but as city council members, I feel we should try to do something.”
Van Arsdale said recent news about the 2014 conviction of Kelley got his attention. The high-profile case has remained in news cycles after a judge found Kelley innocent and granted him an appeal. However, questions raised about other adult males with criminal records staying in the home where the assaults occurred left some concerned.
Just a handful of Texas cities have separate permitting rules for daycares and Cedar Park is not among them.
All licensed day care centers in Texas are under regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services, said Jill Hoffman, assistant city attorney. State requirements include criminal background checks for daycare workers, as well as health and safety training.
“We allow child care centers in residential and non-residential areas by conditional use under our zoning ordinance,” Hoffman said. “The zoning requires that the centers follow all state regulations for daycare facilities.”
Cedar Park zoning rules classify day care centers as family homes in most residential areas of the city and as registered child care homes in non residential areas, she said. Family homes must be the caretaker’s residence with no more than six children under the age of 14 receiving services. The registered child care homes cannot have overnight lodging, provide medical treatment or offer counseling or rehabilitation services.
Structures used for daycares must comply with city building and fire codes. The city can issue fines of up to $2,000 per day for structures that are not code compliant.
“When I see messages on my neighborhood’s email account offering daycare, we have no way of knowing if they are licensed or what type of license they have,” Van Arsdale said.
City Council Member Anne Duffy also questioned how parents seeking daycare can know how many family members are present in a day care home.
Arlington is among the five Texas cities that have local regulations. The city maintains an online database of licensed day care facilities and performs more inspections than are required by the state, said city spokesperson Susan Shrock. The same city who inspect restaurants also inspect the city’s licensed daycare facilities.
“We have one inspection each year for buildings and playgrounds and two kitchen inspections a year because our inspectors say those are the areas that are highly susceptible to problems,” she said.
Cedar Park does not have its own health department. Restaurant inspections here are handled by Williamson County.
Arlington backs up the state requirements for staff training by having health inspectors check with center staff on its completion. The city also requires the coursework for the training to be updated every five years.
Hoffman said North Richland Hills has its own day care regulations as well, which include permitting child care workers based on state requirements. Criminal background checks, health screenings for tuberculosis, and first aid and CPR training are required for all all day care workers in the state.
North Richland Hills also requires daycares provide a password system for legal guardians who are picking up children from day care facilities.
Civil and criminal penalties can be used in enforcement of daycare licensing requirements. When the local health department has a role, as in Arlington, facilities can be closed down if they are unsanitary.
Advocacy groups such as Texans Care for Children keep an eye on conditions at day care centers and the group’s CEO said local regulations might help.
“Many Texas kids spend their days in child care homes that are only required to meet minimal safety rules,” said Stephanie Rubin of the Austin-based group. “Local efforts to improve child care standards would be beneficial, especially if there are also more resources to help struggling child care centers boost their quality to meet those standards.”
Van Arsdale said he recognizes that most of the regulatory authority over day care operations resides in the state legislature. He said raising the local profile of what day care center operators are required to do might reduce the chances of overlooking unsafe conditions.
“I wanted to know if there was a gap in the state regulations that the city can fill,” he said.
The council did not take any action on the matter at its Jan. 11 meeting.