Local News
6:53 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

Louisville Parents Already Pinched by Possible Day Care Closures

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The possible closure of at least 17 Louisville child care centers investigated by a state agency is already causing difficulties for parents who depend on their services—and an advocate is questioning why the state hadn't took action earlier.

Community Coordinated Child Care—an advocacy group for parents and child care centers—took several calls Thursday from parents desperate to find new day care services because their providers had or will close, said Susan Vessels, 4-C's director.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has notified 18 child care centers that their licenses to operate are being revoked after a fraud investigation. The centers' operators—one of which hasn't been identified—have 20 days to appeal the decision. Otherwise, they close.

"We have had many, many calls from parents who are panicking because their center closed and they have to go to work tomorrow," Vessels said. "We're trying to help as many as we can find alternative childcare that fits that family's needs."

(Updates on Friday: New regulations and 18th day care identified.)

The cabinet has not disclosed the exact nature of the investigation. In letters notifying the child care centers that their licenses were being revoked, the cabinet alleges that the operators failed to ensure that mandatory records had not been ""not been altered or falsified."

Here's a map for most of the child care centers:

(Related: Read letters sent to the child care providers.)

The cabinet's investigation is on-going, a spokeswoman said.

The child care centers were notified that their payments would be withheld from the Child Care Assistance Program, which offers federal and state subsidies for low-income, working families to cover child care costs while parents are at jobs or school, the cabinet said.

The child care subsidy has been abused in recent years. Recently, a Louisville woman who operated three child care centers pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to the CCAP program, The Courier-Journal reported.

Vessels said 4-C staff had flagged some of the affected day cares for suspicion of abusing CCAP as far back as 2009. Until July 2012, Community Coordinated Child Care administered the subsidy program in Louisville.

"It really boils down to: There needs to be more action taken more quickly," Vessels said.

Though it's not clear that possible abuse of the subsidy is the root of the investigation, it's worth looking at how the program works. The cabinet creates a contract with a child care provider once a family is approved for CCAP—which soon will be fewer; more on that later, a spokeswoman said. Child care centers gives billing forms to an administrator documenting attendance and are paid off those records.

Parents receiving CCAP subsidies are supposed to sign their children in and out.

"Sign in sheets with signatures are verification of attendance," the cabinet said.

The investigation was "aided by the cabinet’s ongoing effort to improve the detection of fraud through new and enhanced information technology," the cabinet said on Wednesday.

Parents who are losing their child care services because of the license revocation may struggle with a series of issues while seeking a new provider: transportation, cost and removing young children from familiar places.

Children often become attached to day-care staff, Vessels said, and they may "grieve" once placed in a new center.

Advocates are calling for the state to ensure that those parents are being assisted.

"In the midst of fulfilling its obligation to ensure compliance, the Cabinet has another responsibility—responsiveness to the children and families affected," said Terry Brooks, executive director for Kentucky Youth Advocates.

"I would hope that transition plans are already underway to ensure that the families and children affected have a clear path to alternative child care centers. Neither the children nor the families should pay a price for agency failures."

The cabinet said it will aid those families, but did not elaborate.

The loss of more than a dozen day cares in Louisville shouldn't cause capacity issues—Louisville has more child care centers than needed to meet demands, Vessels said.

Louisville has 783 child care providers—included licensed centers and in-home services—that accept the child care subsidy, a cabinet spokeswoman said.

But, Vessels cautioned, a greater concern are the impending $57.8 million cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program because of a budget shortfall.The first round—a freezing of new applicants, except in some circumstances—goes into effect on Monday.

Those cuts will pull children from child care centers as parents find cheaper alternatives, such as families members, she said. In turn, child care centers may diminish their services to make up for the lost revenue—or they may close.

These possible closures will only compound the issue, Vessels said.

(Image via Shutterstock.)