Day Care Dangers, Part 1

It's one of the most important decisions a parent can make: where to send your child to day care.

You consider the cost, if there's a waiting list or not, and of course, the center's reputation. You hope you've made the right choice about who's watching your kids.

But as we found out in a News Three investigation, what seems right at the beginning may be very wrong.

"My heart collapsed," said Carrie Harrison. It's a call she will never forget, the call was about her one-and-a-half year old son, Braylen.

"I was told that a mother found him approximately five feet from the road, East 30th Street, and he had been out of his classroom for about four minutes," the mom recalled.

Braylen was at a Bryan daycare and somehow got out of his classroom.

"All I kept thinking was, 'what could have happened, what might have happened,'" Harrison said. "'What if he was killed? What if he was run over by a car and killed, or kidnapped and half way cross the country by now?'"

Fortunately for Harrison, Braylen was not hurt. Unfortunately, her worst fears are shared by many other parents.

"I took my daughter (to day care) as a baby and they didn't change her or feed her, and the facility was dirty," said mother Melonnie Hicks.

Another mom, Keri Sourdot said, "It's pretty undescribable. You really can't describe that until you have a child, the feeling of leaving them in the hands of someone you don't really necessarily know."

Stay-at-home mom Yvette Cordova agrees. "They should be able to put their kids in there and know that they are safe," she said, "but there are just all kinds of people out there and you never know who's in the daycares."

Jennifer Sitton has her child in a small in-home day care. "It horrified us, the thought of it horrified us. You hear so many bad stories about children who are abused or neglected at standard daycare," Sitton said.

And these parents aren't alone. The following are actual complaints our local licensing office has received:

One parent writes, "a teacher put tape over a child's mouth."
At another day care: "a child was put in a dark closet for discipline."
"Children are being hit with a ruler as a form of discipline," on complaint reads.
"A child was found at a store next to the day care," reads another.
And there's this one: "an illegal operation was keeping children with a sexual predator living in the house."

That's where the state steps in.

"Some of them are definitely mind-boggling," said state licensing inspector Jacqueline Barnett.

Her job is to regulate childcare facilities.

"To protect the children, to ensure that no child is hurt outside the home," said Barnett.

Anyone who provides care in their home for up to three children must be listed with the state. However, they will not be inspected.

Registered child care homes can watch six children under the the age of 14 and six more school age kids. They are inspected every one-to-three years.

Lisensed homes and centers must meet stricter qualifications and face inspection every three-to-twelve months.

"Every facility should have posted the most recent inspection report," Barnett said.

We went along with her on an unannounced inspection. A lot of things they deal with are sanitation issues like washing hands after changing diapers and staff-to-child ratios. And then there's supervision issues.

"Where children have gotten left on field trips or left on the playground, or in the classroom when the rest of the class went to the playground," explains Barnett.

On this day, the state's inspection turned up nothing. Inspectors were here in part because of a self-reported accident of a two-year-old boy.

"Accidents are going to happen. They're children -- they're supposed to happen," said Barnett. "Then we go out and do an inspection and make sure everything is on the up and up and that they're following all the guidelines."

While you can't predict the future, you can research the past. There's an online tool that serves as a sort of a report card for all day cares in Texas.

News Three went through the inspections and were amazed to find what's happening inside some Bryan/College Station day cares.

We'll show you in Part 2 of Day Care Dangers, Friday at 6 and 10 p.m.