CADILLAC — Kids “popped‘ in the mouth. Kids found in hallways or near parking lots. A formula thickener that was shaken, not stirred.

Those are some of the complaints the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs substantiated during special investigations into daycare centers in and near Cadillac.

Special investigations arise when a complaint is lobbed against a daycare center. Not all of the complaints against the daycare centers were substantiated.

While some substantiated complaints call simply for "corrective action plans" where the daycare operators explain their plan to fix the problem, other substantiated complaints have resulted in changes in the status of the daycare center's license.

Both the McCauley Children's Center and Preschool and Joyful Hearts Early Learning Center are on "first provisional" licenses.

"It’s a 'probationary' license status and if there are issues during the period of provisional status, violations of conditions for the status or other licensing requirements can permanently affect the provider continuing to have a license," a LARA spokesperson told the Cadillac News.

The Cadillac News reviewed special investigation reports, which are public documents available online, for daycare centers in the area. These special investigations do not necessarily capture all rule violations; some violations are found in the course of routine inspections. Special investigation reports, however, tend to be prompted by specific complaints and specific incidents. The newspaper did not review special investigation reports for home-based daycares.

WEXFORD COUNTY

MCCAULEY CHILDREN'S CENTER AND PRESCHOOL, 711 Oak Street, Cadillac

There have been four special investigations into the McCauley Children's Center and Preschool since the center opened in April 2019.

The first special investigation, in May 2019, found that potty training coordination between parents and the facility wasn't up to standards. The license was unaffected.

The next special investigation, completed in November 2019 following a complaint in July 2019, found numerous violations but did not affect the McCauley Center's licensing status. The substantiated complaints included complaints that owner Anje Scott wasn't available to parents and "does not encourage staff to provide accurate and truthful information to the department."

LARA also found problems in child supervision, child ratios and allowing infants to sleep in swings.

"Children in Classroom 3 are not supervised well; a child received a black eye and both caregivers present had two different accounts of how the injury occurred," the report noted.

The McCauley Children's Center and Preschool's licensing status changed after the third special investigation. In December 2019, following complaints in October, LARA issued a "first provisional license" for the daycare center.

The December 2019 special investigation report says the McCauley Children's Center and Preschool did not notify parents quickly enough when a 3-year-old boy fell and injured his tooth; the center used a childcare app to notify the mother, but because it was an injury to the head, the mother should have been called. 

The boy had been climbing on a play kitchen when the accident happened. The center was also written up for that; LARA says there should have been better supervision and more play-spaces available for children.

During the course of the third special investigation, the LARA investigator also witnessed a child enter the gym, unnoticed by caregivers. The door to the gym was near a door to the outside.

A caregiver "stated that he likely opened the door from the gym that I had seen him enter from, exited the gym, and then re-entered the gym through the same door because he does that all of the time." The investigator told the caregiver to watch the boy more closely. 

The McCauley Children's Center and Preschool was investigated again earlier in 2020; that investigation was complete in May and was based on a complaint received in March.

The most recent special investigation found several violations. Among them were complaints that the kitchen was dirty, that owner Anje Scott didn't make sure everybody knew who was in charge when she was gone, and that staff were smoking on the premise in their cars. Additionally, the investigation found a repeat violation, stating that program manager/owner Scott wasn't available to parents.

Moreover, staff continued to say they were afraid to be honest with the state.

"S/he felt that some staff members were treated more favorably than others and s/he believes there is a 'high probability' that Ms. Scott and CCSM 3 would retaliate against staff who were honest to child care licensing personnel during special investigations," the report noted.

Another violation found staff was not feeding a baby properly. The infant needed a thickener added to their fluids due to a medical problem; without it, the baby could have "major respiratory issues including permanent lung damage and even death," the child's mother told the investigator.

Package instructions and instructions from the mother told staff to stir the thickener into the baby's formula; instead, they were shaking or swirling it.

There were 11 rule violations listed in the most recent report's summary; six in the one before that, 19 in the November 2019 and one in the August 2019 report.

Owner Anje Scott says the most recent complaint, which was completed in May 2020, came from a former employee.

"The source of the complaint is a former employee (as stated in her Facebook post) that was not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and is now out to hurt our business and program," Scott said in an email to the Cadillac News. "Some people are like clouds, when they are gone it's a beautiful day. Right now the weather is perfect."

Scott indicated that former employees can report daycare centers for rules they themselves broke.

"Staff are aware of what the licensing rules are, and can report us for things they have done knowing we can be violated for their actions even after leaving," Scott noted.

Scott said she's made additional changes at the center and that the center was temporarily open until 11:30 p.m. to care for children of essential infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (when the McCauley Center opened, Munson employees got first crack at the childcare slots. Munson Healthcare declined to comment for this story, saying they are only landlords and do not participate in the operation of the center).

"All of the concerns were immediately addressed ... Our licensing consultant has been on site multiple times doing increased monitoring and consultation with staff members to ensure we are following best child care practices," Scott said. "Our licensing consultant has assured me that we are doing everything they have asked and even more."

Scott said she's no longer working in the classroom and has an office and office hours to meet with parents.

LITTLE BEAR CHILD CARE, 518 West Wexford Avenue, Buckley

Little Bear Child Care, like the McCauley Children's Center and Preschool, is owned by Anje Scott. Little Bear has been the subject of three special investigations since 2018. However, the center is operating under a regular license.

Little Bear was written up for not notifying parents about a herpes case one of the children had in June 2018; the center was supposed to notify parents of the name of the disease and its symptoms. Scott said she had waited because she didn't know what she was dealing with; she felt the parent of the sick child wasn't clear on the diagnosis.

In November 2018, the daycare center was written up for not providing appropriate supervision; details of that investigation were not available.

In March 2019, a special investigation report found that Little Bear wasn't maintaining the right caregiver-to-child in the HeadStart preschool classroom.

A November 2019 special investigation into Little Bear found three rule violations. The investigator found that "Child A’s Mother found Child A near the entrance of the building as she walked in. There were no other caregivers in sight at the time."

That finding was different than the initial complaint, which alleged that a child was found in a parking lot. Little Bear was also written up for square footage violations and failing to properly use a "primary caregiver" system.

JOYFUL HEARTS EARLY LEARNING CENTER, Emmanuel Lutheran Church

11198 East M-55, Cadillac

Joyful Hearts Early Learning Center is on a provisional license following an investigation that concluded in January 2020.

LARA received a complaint in November 2019 alleging thatan employee "became frustrated with Child A (male, 5 years) and put her hand on the back of his neck, pushed him into the pillows of the reading center in the PreK 4 classroom, and popped him in the mouth with her hand."

As a result of the special investigation, Joyful Hearts was cited for breaking three rules regarding child discipline; one of the violations was a repeat violation.

The rules state that "(2) All of the following means of punishment shall be prohibited: (a) Hitting, spanking, shaking, biting, pinching, or inflicting other forms of corporal punishment."

The investigator found that the program directors "did not ensure that all forms of corporal punishment were prohibited. Two employees were observed “popping‘ children in the mouth as a form of discipline."

LARA's special investigation found that this was a repeat violation, citing a special investigation dated January 2017.  

However, that special investigation was not readily available; LARA said special investigations stay online for three years.

The Cadillac News reached out to Program Director, Jayne Foster regarding what it means to "pop" a child in the mouth; in parts of the report, it's described as "tapping" a student in the mouth with two fingers due to biting; other interviewees describe it more like a smack.

Foster declined to comment on the definition of "popping." 

She later offered additional comment on the incident, saying changes have been made and "We feel this incident is behind us."

The parents of Child A declined to let the boy be interviewed, the special investigation says.

"Child A’s mother informed me that she did not want me to interview Child A and she and his father were comfortable with the way things are at the center," the report says. "She stated that she would contact me if Child A mentioned anything relevant in future conversations."

YMCA DILLON COMMUNITY CENTER, 9845 Campus Drive, Cadillac

The daycare center in the YMCA has had two special investigations but that has not impacted the facility's licensing status.

The YMCA has two daycare programs; the Dillon Community Center one is for before/after school, GSRP, Head Start, preschool and school-age kids; it is not for infants.

The most recent special investigation into the YMCA Dillon Community Center found five substantiated rule violations. The allegations centered around a concern that a child had inappropriately kissed or tickled another child; the report implies the children were 4 or 5 years old.

The investigator said the daycare center had broken the rules when they didn't immediately notify the parents of the alleged perpetrator. The parents found out when investigators from another agency showed up at their door, the report states.

The special investigation report also cited the daycare center for not telling staff of the allegations soon enough so staff could improve supervision of the children involved. Director Deborah Blake did not ensure that staffers knew who was in charge in her absence, the report said.

Blake did not return a request for comment, but YMCA Executive Director Mike Kelso did.

"The official findings and our anecdotal knowledge was that something very likely didn't occur and was inconclusive of any harm done to children," Kelso said of the complaint. "And that's what was really most important."

Kelso said the daycare center had learned from the process.

"This is a challenging situation. We hadn't dealt with anything like this before," Kelso said. "So understanding the process and how that was communicated to us was a little difficult."

He went on to say, "Rules are usually black and white but situations aren't."

He said the center has also clarified who is in charge when Blake is absent. He indicated that the YMCA's multiple functions may have contributed to the confusion during the investigation.

There was also an investigation that concluded in November 2017; that investigation found rule violations regarding the documentation that's required when parents provide food. The center was also cited for not allowing a parent into the facility. The investigation indicated that was related to a custody dispute.

The YMCA's other daycare site (at Baker College) has not had a special investigation, records indicate. However, the daycare center does have a provisional/probationary license due to hiring a program director who had not yet obtained documentation verifying their credentials.

MISSAUKEE COUNTY

LITTLE BLESSINGS DAYCARE AND PRESCHOOL, 10540 South Lucas Road, McBain

Little Blessings Daycare and Preschool was under a first provisional license following a special investigation that concluded in June 2019. The state's website lists Little Blessings as still being under a six-month provisional license but owner Lynnmarie Kinkema said the website's information is not accurate; their issues have resolved and they are back to regular license status.

"We're all clear and we're in no violations," Kinkema said.

The special investigation stemmed from a sanitation complaint. In the course of the investigation, LARA found infant sleep violations, said the kids were watching too much TV, and criticized caregivers for not eating with the children. In all, there were 13 rule violations.

NORTHWEST MICHIGAN COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY PRESCHOOL - FALMOUTH, 219 East Prosper Road, Falmouth

A special investigation that concluded in July 2019 found that staff didn't provide appropriate supervision. The report stemmed from an incident in which one child pushed another off the top of a slide. The child broke their arm.

There was no change in licensing status. NMCAA did not immediately return a request for comment.

OSCEOLA COUNTY

GRANDMA'S HOUSE CHILDCARE, 107 Bremer, Tustin

Grandma's House Childcare is on a second provisional license following a special investigation that concluded in May 2020. The investigation found repeat violations involving infant sleep; in particular, babies were being allowed to sleep in car seats. 

Owner Rebecca Miller said it happened during early drop-off; a baby was dropped off in a room for older kids where there wasn't a crib. A crib has since been moved into the room and staff has been re-trained.

"We're doing our best to take really good care of the kids," Miller said.

Grandma's House was also written up for "Child care staff members grab children by their hoods and carry them under their arms or over their shoulder. Child care staff members allow children to push Child A" and for using the kitchen for time-out."

Like Scott at the McAuley Children's Center and Preschool in Cadillac, Miller said a complaint from a former employee sparked the investigation.

"I hold no animosity to this person," Miller said. "I think they felt like they were doing the right thing."

JUST 4s REED CITY, 220 West Lincoln Ave, Reed City

Just 4s Reed City was written up during a special investigation that concluded in February 2018 after taking a child outside in winter weather with just a T-shirt and socks. The child put winter gear on after being taken outside. LARA said a caregiver could have stayed behind with the child until they were ready to go outdoors. There was no change in license status. The Mecosta Osceola ISD holds the license for Just 4s and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NEWBEES DAYCARE CENTER, 139 West Church Avenue, Reed City

Newbees was written up following a special investigation that concluded in October 2018. The investigation found 14 rule violations but did not result in a change in licensing status.

Rule violations included broken toys, lack of programming and routine, too much TV, too many kids-to-caregivers, unlabeled foods, a program director was not on-site enough, and handwashing violations. Additionally, infant sleep violations included swaddling older infants and use of a swing for sleeping.

Program director Angie Tower told the Cadillac News that, like some other daycare centers, a former employee was the source of the complaint that sparked the special investigation.

"If someone leaves, and they leave angry, 90% of time they're gonna call you in," Tower said. "So you know you have to expect that."

But Tower wasn't bitter about the process.

She said special investigations can help daycare centers identify problem areas the operators didn't see, and give centers a chance to fix the problem.

Tower said Newbees had a suprise inspection on Thursday of last week.

"And it was wonderful. We actually got 100%," she told the newspaper.

Newbees is under the umbrella of the New Beginnings Fellowship Church.

OTHER DAYCARE CENTERS

In Wexford County, LARA lists 19 licensed child care centers (this does not include home daycares). Special investigations are relatively uncommon in the county. There are nine in Missaukee County and 14 in Osceola County. There are no daycare centers in the parts of Lake County that are in the Cadillac News coverage area.

Daycares affiliated with school districts were particularly unlikely to be the subject of special investigations.

Scott, the owner of the McCauley Children's Center in Cadillac as well as Little Bear in Buckley, said it can be hard to compete with the schools for qualified employees.

"On another note, we are caring for parents' most prized possessions," Scott wrote in an email to the newspaper. "The field of child care is one of the most under paid and under benefited career fields. Retaining highly qualified staff is not only difficult but something that all area centers struggle with. It is difficult to compete with the pay and benefit packages offered by local school districts. Some individuals look at this field as a stepping stone into their career, and others as a last resort."

Cadillac News