By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY -- Day-care centers outside New York City had about 7,000 violations over the past two years with limited enforcement from the state, a review Thursday by the Senate Independent Democratic Conference charged.
The four-member conference contended that state regulators aren't doing enough to crack down on violations at the nearly 1,600 day-care facilities. The number of violations averaged about four per facility.
To review violations against a day-care facility, visit the New York State Office of Children and Family Services website.
The report cited two Binghamton-area centers as having the most violations in the state from May 2011 through earlier this month: Kurious Kids Childcare & Play Center in the city had 71, and the Jewish Community Center Early Childhood Center in Vestal had 70.
The report cited two Rochester-area centers -- the Wilson Commencement Park in the city and KinderCare Learning in Webster -- as having some of the more egregious complaints, including charges of corporal punishment, the report said, based on a review of records from the state Office of Children and Family Services.
"The current state of oversight and enforcement at New York state day-care centers is simply unacceptable," said Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who represents parts of Westchester County and heads the IDC. "When a parent drops their child off at daycare, they deserve to have peace of mind."
Some day-care providers said the violations were minor, and the state disputed the report's findings.
The Office of Children and Family Services said it has 400 inspectors who conduct announced and surprise visits to the centers, and its website provides nearly up-to-date information on violations. Serious offenses can lead to suspension of a license or revocation, the agency said, but the enforcement actions are not noted on the website -- only the violations.
In the instances of alleged corporal punishment in Monroe County, workers were fired or suspended, and staff faced additional training, the agency said.
"This report took one portion of our regulatory program out of context and is alarmingly misleading for parents in this state," said Jennifer Givner, the agency's spokeswoman. "The health and safety of New York state's more than 500,000 children in child care is paramount to OCFS, and we have a rigorous inspection and enforcement process to hold providers accountable for compliance."
Andrea Thomas, the owner of Kurious Kids, said the violations noted by the state have been resolved and were minor offenses.
"The problem with the state is they write you up for a dirty fingerprint on a light-switch plate," Thomas said. "This is the kind of things we're up against as day-care owners."
For example, the center was cited several times, including in January, for not having coat hooks spaced so jackets did not touch each other, state records showed. Another violation, though, noted that "children cannot be left without competent direct supervision at any time."
Marlene Schwartz Patrick, the director at the JCC's center in Vestal, said many of the center's violations were for clerical issues, such as not having workers' certifications on file. State law requires 50 percent of day-care programs to be inspected each year.
"We run a high-quality, early-childhood program. We're an amazing, well-educated staff, and we have a phenomenal facility," she said.
In addition to seeking enhanced enforcement by the state, the lawmakers introduced legislation that would require centers to post their latest inspection reports in their lobbies and on their websites. The IDC said the state should also review the availability and quality of day-care facilities in New York. They also want to increase subsidies and tax credits for families who pay for day care.
The report showed that central New York and Broome County had the highest number of violations compared to the number of providers, an average of about 15 per facility.
The center in Monroe County with the most violations over the two years was the New Born Fellowship Church in Rochester, with 26 violations. The facility could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The most in Westchester County was the Child's World Academy in Peekskill, with 35 violations. The owners, Ken Johnsson and his wife, Pat, said they were disappointed by the Senate's report, saying that the complaints were minor and largely under previous management. They said the violations were mainly during an inspection period, which would have led to more findings by the state, and all have been corrected.
"We're fairly upset with the findings that are here," Ken Johnsson said.
Three of the violations were issued in March, including one that said, "Appropriate sleep, rest and quiet periods, responsive to individual and group needs, must be provided." Another called for an "adequate number of qualified staff (to) be on duty."
In the list of violations for the Monroe County day-care facilities, Wilson Commencement and KinderCare, it lists that "corporal punishment is prohibited." Both were cited twice since 2011 for the violation.
"This includes punishment inflicted directly on the body including, but not limited to, spanking, biting, shaking, slapping, twisting or squeezing; demanding excessive physical exercise, prolonged lack of movement or motion, or strenuous or bizarre postures; and compelling a child to eat or have in the child's mouth soap, foods, hot spices or other substances," the violation states.
Wilson Commencement declined comment. KinderCare referred calls to its corporate offices in Portland, Ore., and the company had no immediate comment.