California puts limited information on day care facilities online

After years of delay, California parents can now find out online some of what the state knows about the facilities that care for their children.

On Friday evening, the Department of Social Services launched its new Community Care Licensing Division Facility Search, which posts online key facts about state-licensed child care centers and home-based day care facilities.

The public can look up how many times in the past five years a facility has been inspected, how many citations – if any – it has received and how many complaints have been lodged against it.

In January, The Center for Investigative Reporting and NBC Bay Area showed how the Department of Social Services had failed to make the information easily available online despite being under pressure to do so since 2006. The majority of other states already post this information about child care facilities online.

"It's a good resource that many other states have," said Kim Johnson, public policy director of California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, of the new search tool.

But the online search tool has its limitations. The database doesn't list a center's specific infractions. Citations are divided into two categories: Type A, the most serious offenses, and Type B, violations that could become a threat to children if not corrected. The tool simply lists the number of infractions of each type, leaving it open to ambiguity. The difference can be significant: A Type A violation can encompass problems ranging from unchanged dirty diapers to access to firearms.

The database also does not provide access to the actual inspection records, which include details about the citations received. Those are available in obscure government offices around the state.

Pat Leary, the department's chief deputy director, said in a statement that she's pleased to offer the site and that the agency will work to improve it.

California's new online tool also includes inspection data about state-licensed elderly assisted living facilities, foster family agencies and adult residential facilities.

Because of the state's delay, CIR and NBC Bay Area have begun gathering, scanning and posting online the records for Bay Area child care centers and in-home day care facilities. The records include specific violations and inspectors' narratives detailing them. You can see the records for Santa Clara and Napa counties here.

A bill that would have forced the department to post more extensive child care records online got watered down in an Assembly committee. In its current form, the bill would essentially codify into law what the department is now doing with its new tool. The bill has passed out of the Assembly and will be heard in the Senate Committee on Human Services this month.

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