25 Investigates: Some family childcare providers operating despite red flags, records show

As childcare costs soar, parents look to less expensive options like home-based family care

Across Massachusetts and the nation, parents are desperate for reliable and affordable childcare.

“Childcare costs are definitely out of our league and not reasonable,” said Brittany Casos, a Boston mom of two struggling to find reliable childcare. “I think the price was what excluded us from using the big centers once we had a second child.”

And for parents like Casos, who are seeking care they can trust and afford, the options are limited. She has had to turn to friends and family for help.

“It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, just trying to cobble together care,” Casos said. Her dilemma is a common one, especially as more childcare centers, facing a worker shortage, take in fewer kids.

So many parents are turning to less expensive options, including home-based family providers.

25 Investigates wanted to know the track record of home-based childcare providers, after receiving a tip regarding concerning backgrounds.

A review of state records shows Massachusetts childcare regulators allowed some home-based center providers to operate despite red flags.

Following a tip about regulators granting licenses to some providers despite concerning or incomplete background checks, 25 Investigates submitted a public records request to the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency that oversees Massachusetts daycares, seeking reports about home-based educators and their assistants who had non-compliances, citations for abuse and neglect, or disqualifying backgrounds.

We found some were still active and listed on EEC’s provider search page.

Family childcare providers account for roughly 17 percent of the state’s licensed childcare capacity, according to EEC.

But two sources familiar with the agency tell 25 Investigates that during the pandemic, people who would normally be considered “unsafe” to be around children were being approved as a way to address the extreme shortage of childcare workers.

Anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh wanted to follow up on that claim. Through a public record request, our team obtained non-compliance reports for home-based providers, covering periods before and after the pandemic - September 2019 through February 2020 and April 2021 through November 2021. Both timeframes were under the helm of former EEC commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy. As 25 Investigates first reported, Aigner-Treworgy resigned earlier this year amid an Inspector General investigation into contracts given to an out-of-state consultant.

In total, EEC records show 46 in-home providers were flagged for not being in compliance with EEC regulations. The heavily redacted reports cover cases of neglect and abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and disqualifying backgrounds.

Common violations among providers included leaving children in the care of an unlicensed person and having family members without proper background checks.

“When you have an untrained staff member that is caring for an infant or a toddler, it can lead to some serious problems,” said John Doherty, an early education expert with School Liability Expert Group.

He says the combination of industry-wide staffing shortages and low wages had led to the current crisis in childcare. Regardless, he says, safety must remain a top priority.

“The state should be increasing their inspections of these facilities to make sure that they are staying compliant, particularly of the training and supervision of staff. That is absolutely essential,” said Doherty.

We asked EEC about our findings. In an email response they told us in part: “EEC licensors regularly monitor programs to ensure they are providing safe, high-quality care.”

But the agency also says during part of the pandemic, its licensors were not making in-person checks, only virtual ones.

In July 2021, planned in-person visits picked up again, while unannounced visits only resumed in April.

Despite that, EEC did take action shutting down some in-home providers, including a Hyannis provider who had a household member accused of child sex abuse.

Another provider had unreported guns in her Springfield home. She voluntarily surrendered her license.

In Hyde Park, an infant suffered a “purposefully inflicted injury” while in provider care. That provider is no longer listed on the EEC website.

But we found a number of providers who, despite red flags, remain active and listed on the EEC Child Care Search page. For example, one in Holyoke is still operating despite having a household member with a disqualifying background and DCF involvement. A provider in Worcester with a disqualifying background involving a report of abuse and neglect remains active, as does a provider in Chicopee with a complaint that she “hit” a child in her care.

Nevertheless, EEC says their standards were never relaxed. In an email they said: “If a person was considered not suitable before COVID they remained not suitable during COVID.”

“Most parents have to work, and they need this childcare. They need to know that when they drop their child off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon that they’ve been in a safe environment,” said Doherty.

“There are days when, you know, I have to stay home or I have to cancel my work appointments, because childcare falling through,” said Casos. “We make good money, but we literally hemorrhage it through childcare costs. I can’t even imagine what other families are struggling with. Something has to be done.”

Doherty reminds parents who are looking for licensed childcare to do their homework. Here are a list of questions he recommends parents ask providers:

What is the staff-to-child ratio?

Is staff trained on CPR and First Aid?

Are they trained specifically to care for infants and toddlers?

Are staff and in-home family provider’s household members properly vetted?

Parents can also look up a provider’s licensing and non-compliance history on the EEC website: https://eeclead.force.com/EEC_ChildCareSearch

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