Underground Daycares: Unregulated and potentially unsafe

You want to know your children are safe when you drop them off at daycare, but that security is not always easy to come by because the state cannot keep track of which providers are following the rules.

There are hundreds of unregulated, in-home daycares in Texas, and many of them are in the Austin area.

TX Human Resources Code – Registered In-Home Daycares
  • Inspectors may visit a registered in-home daycare at any time
  • The state will investigate a registered in-home daycare if it receives a complaint of: abuse, neglect, immediate risk of danger to health or safety, or under the suspicious of the daycare having more than three children
  • The state can provide the public with the inspection data
Background Checks
  • The state will search the central registry of reported cases of child abuse or neglect
  • In-home daycares must register if it has four or more children
  • Registration must be displayed in a prominent place in the home
  • The state can deny an application for registration if: the operator has a revoked daycare license in another state or is barred from operating a daycare in another state
Rules & Fees
  • Annual fee to register (to pay for the state’s cost in regulating in-home daycares) is $35
  • Each in-home daycare must post: information on reporting child abuse or neglect; a description of sudden infant death syndrome, shaken-baby syndrome, and childhood diabetes; a description of how to access an online list of unsafe children’s products
  • Each in-home daycare must be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors

Dozens of people right here in Central Texas are willing to watch your kids in their own homes at a low price, and all they need is an online ad for affordable child care

Lanie Matula sent her three-year-old daughter Layla to an in-home daycare she found online. At a $100 per week price tag, she explained, “The main reason I was looking at an in-home daycare is financially it’s a little bit less than at an actual daycare itself.”

At the time, she says it seemed like a good idea. Now, years later she says she can’t remember if that daycare was registered.

Julie Moody with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says, “As a parent you want to ask the daycare provider. ‘Are you listed with the state?'”

DFPS says knowing your daycare is registered is crucial to the safety of your child. It’s an easy process for the provider. Fill out an application, pay $35 each year and follow some simple rules.

A few of those rules: no more than 12 kids in your home, criminal background checks on everyone living there, an emergency evacuation plan, and a carbon monoxide detector.

Moody goes on to say, “I mean there’s training involved, there’s background checks. It’s also just that basic health and safety standards.”

Right now, the state says it relies mostly on tips from the public to learn when an in-home daycare is not following the rules.

KXAN obtained letters the agency gave to 10 unregistered daycares in Travis and Williamson Counties following up on complaints on everything from abuse to neglect.

“When we do find unregulated daycares we always help get them to become regulated,” says Moody.

If the daycares do not comply, the state may shut them down after multiple warnings.

We checked back with the daycares that received those letters. One woman says the registration process was not worth the time, money and effort.

KXAN: “So you didn’t know you were supposed to register?
Former Daycare Provider: “No, I didn’t know at all … I don’t really understand why people have to register to babysit. People trust you. It should be fine.”

DFPS officials say finding unregulated daycares is getting tougher. In both 2011 and 2012, they discovered 270 facilities. In 2013, that number jumped to more than 400.

“We need to have more people looking for unregulated daycares,” said Moody. State lawmakers just gave the agency $4 million to hire 40 full-time investigators. They are now in training, but the agency warns parents to do some investigating on their own.

Moody said, “The first sort of red flag is if it’s too good to be true, they’re probably not regulated.”

Right now the additional investigators are finishing their training. A DFPS spokesperson says they should be out on the streets looking for illegal daycares within the next six months.

To find out of your child’s daycare is listed, visit http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/

Daycare Definitions:
Listed Family Home: A caregiver provides care in the caregiver’s own home for three or fewer children unrelated to the caregiver, birth through 13 years old, for at least four hours a day, three or more days a week, and more than nine consecutive weeks. The total number of children in care, including children related to the caregiver, may not exceed 12.
Registered Child-Care Home: A caregiver provides regular care in the caregiver’s own home for not more than six children from birth through 13 years old, and may provide care after school hours for not more than six additional elementary school children. The total number of children in care at any given time, including the children related to the caregiver, must not exceed 12.
Licensed Child-Care Home: The caregiver provides care in the caregiver’s own home for children from birth through 13 years old. The total number of children in care varies with the ages of the children, but the total number of children in care at any given time, including the children related to the caregiver, must not exceed 12.
Licensed Center: An operation providing care for seven or more children under 14 years old for less than 24 hours per day at a location other than the permit holder’s home

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