MANHATTAN — The tragic death of a 3-month-old baby boy at an unlicensed day care this week has shaken parents and left many wondering about their own day cares.
But those who search for information about their child’s facility will find a confusing system for tracking licensing and safety records.
That’s because two different agencies regulate child care programs — the city's Department of Health and the state Office of Children and Family Services — and they list their inspection records in two separate databases.
In addition, day cares aren't legally required to display their safety record for parents to see.
Here’s how to navigate the system and get real information about your child’s facility:
1. Find out what category of day care your child attends.
Determining the official category that your facility, or would-be facility, falls under is the first and most critical step — since this determines who regulates it.
These are the types of child care recognized by the city's Health Department:
► "Informal child care," usually located in someone's home, allows the child care provider to watch up to two children, of any age, in addition to his or her own kids. For example, it could be an arrangement where you pay your neighbor to watch your kids and her own.
These informal set-ups are not regulated by any agency.
► "Family day care" is a small day care in someone's home, and can care for babies as young as six weeks old. The facility can only hold three to eight children, and the provider must have at least two years experience caring for kids under 6 or a year of experience plus six hours of early childhood development training.
These facilities are regulated by the state.
► "Group family day care" is a day care in someone's home, and can care for babies as young as six weeks old. Providers are allowed to care for between seven and 16 kids. The provider must have an assistant, and both must have the same qualifications as above.
These facilities are regulated by the state.
► "Center-based group child care" facilities don't operate in homes. These day care centers, which take babies from six weeks, can watch three or more kids and are overseen by an educational director who has a staff of teachers with degrees in early childhood education or the required minimum child care training listed above.
These facilities are regulated by the city.
2. Look up your provider to ensure that they have a license.
After you determine which type of facility your child attends, check either the state or city database to make sure their license is current. Licensed day cares must follow strict safety guidelines such as checking on napping babies every 15 minutes and noting their sleep position.
All licensed programs, whether they’re in homes or at centers, must maintain staffing ratios set by the state: one caregiver for every two children under 2 years of age. In addition, at center-based programs, if there are any children under the age of 2 present, the maximum number of kids is five.
3. Review their inspection history.
Again, remember that inspection histories are listed in two different databases depending on whether the state or city oversees your day care.
► For information about the centers that the city oversees (see list above), you can search here.
There are a host of infractions that can be considered violations, some severe enough to be considered potential threats to children's safety, such as blocked fire exits, milk stored at incorrect temperature and the inability to document that staffers had appropriate background checks or that kids had proper immunizations.
Violations deemed "public health hazards" need to be fixed within 24 hours. There are also "critical" violations that must be corrected within two weeks. These less severe violations include fire drill logs that aren't updated or bathrooms that aren't properly maintained.
More minor violations — usually related to administrative oversights — can be addressed within 30 days. These include issues like unavailable staff immunization records or food that doesn't meet nutritional guidelines.
The city recently revamped its search engine, making it now possible to compare your child’s day care safety record to the citywide average and clearly stating the percentage of annual inspections with violations. The overhauled database also now includes other helpful information such as staff turnover and how long the site has been around.
The city has also now made it possible to sign up for text or email notifications about centers’ inspections.
► For information about the centers that the state oversees (see list above), you can search here.
They’re not as detailed as records for city-regulated centers, but parents can see when their day care was last inspected and read a description of the most recent violations. Parents can also see whether the day care has had any violations in the last two years that haven’t been corrected.
4. Who do I contact if I have concerns about my facility?
If you see something, say something.
Inspectors makes unannounced visits to day care centers throughout the year. Inspectors also respond to complaints. Parents should call 311 to report any concerns.