Over the last couple of years, the number of regulated childcare operations has dropped, not because of falling demand for childcare but because more operations are going underground.
A recent investigation into an unlicensed day care in Brazos County is highlighting the problem.
"We don't know what happened, we know what the doctors have told us, but we don't know what happened on that particular day," College Station resident Brandon Verzal said.
That day was April 3rd when Alexis Verzal received head injuries constant with shaken baby syndrome.
"You can do all the research in the world on the best place to take your child, and do everything by text book in terms of checking to make sure everything's ok with that place, and you just never know," Verzal said.
Brandon and Tiffany Verzal checked dozens of local child care facilities before choosing a private, in-home day care; one with 20 years experience and came highly recommended. The day care they chose was not listed with the state and is no longer operating.
"It's difficult to say because there are so many out there, and we know they're out there," state licensing inspector Jacqueline Barnett said.
According to investigators in the Child Care Licensing Division, within the past 12 months, 200 unlicensed daycares have been found in Central Texas.
These underground operations may be attractive to parents because they are smaller and may be less expensive, but state officials say they are likely more dangerous.
Unregulated childcare means no oversight, no checks and balances and no guarantees of properly trained staff.
"If they're choosing to operate illegally and not abide by the law, usually those people have something to hide," Barnett said.
Caring for one to three children requires what's called a Listed Home status with the state.
There are no minimum standards and no inspections.
Background checks are required and there's a fee of $20.
"They could be a sexual predator, they could have drug charges, they could have had their own children taken away from them," Barnett said. "You don't want to put your children in someone's home that you don't know their background, you don't know their history."
If you know of someone operating an illegal day care, you're urged to let our local child care licensing office know about it. Officials say you will remain anonymous.
If you want to find out if a day care is licensed and how many violations they have, the website is txchildcaresearch.org. Everything there is public record and it doesn't cost you a thing.
Here are some helpful tips for choosing the best location to care for your child:
Day Care Questions Parents Should Ask
-Is the facility licensed or registered with the state?
-Will the provider give references?
-Does the facility or any of its personnel have a criminal record?
-Is the provider trained in early childhood education or first aid?
-What activities will the child be doing all day?
-Are parents welcome to visit during the day?
5 Steps to Child Care Solutions
1. Search online for day care providers, 24-hour residential facilities, and adoption agencies and foster care at txchildcaresearch.org.
2. Enter your requirements. The search will return a list of providers who report services meeting your specifications, including their locations and phone numbers.
3. Select specific providers you'd like to research. www.txchildcaresearch.org reveals each provider's licensing history and compliance with minimum health and safety standards.
4. Call 1-866-TX-CHILD toll-free or use txchildcaresearch.org to locate the child care resource and referral agency nearest you. These local resource and referral agencies can provide additional information on the programs, costs, availability, and accessibility of the individual providers.
5. Visit the day care or residential facilities you are considering. Interview the caregivers and watch the interaction between the staff and the children. Talk to parents whose children attend. Make sure the provider's care meets your standards. Once your child is in care, stay involved and keep asking questions.