April 13, 2010

Cornell Childcare Center Charged With 47 Violations

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The Cornell Childcare Center has accumulated 47 violations since it opened approximately a year and a half ago, according to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which establishes state regulations regarding childcare. Though it said it is concerned about the violations, the center maintains that its environment is exceedingly safe and healthy for toddlers.

In the past year, 21 of the center’s violations were designated as “serious,” according to the OCFS website.  Some of the regulations violated include, “children cannot be left without competent direct supervision at any time,” “suitable precautions must be taken to eliminate all conditions in areas accessible to children which pose a safety or health hazard,” and “if the child day care center does not furnish meals, there must be adequate supplemental food available in the event that no meal is provided by the parent or if the meal provided by the parent is of inadequate nutritional value.”  However, all repeat violations have since been corrected.

Six of the non-serious violations were still listed as “not corrected,” according to the OCFS website. These included, among others, violating regulations that maintained that “suitable precautions must be taken to eliminate all conditions which may contribute to or create a fire hazard,” and “an adequate number of qualified staff must be on duty to insure the health and safety of children.”

The center has a maximum capacity of 154 and is available to Cornell faculty, staff and students with children from infants to preschoolers, according to Linda Croll Howell, director of work/life services.

Cornell owns and maintains the building, while Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a company based in Massachusetts, manages the center and designs the curricula. The University holds joint-monthly review meetings with Bright Horizons to discuss enrollment, staffing, new programs, initiatives and curricula, according to Howell.

“Bright Horizons works with the Human Resource team at Cornell to make the center a valuable part of the University,” Ilene Serpa, spokesperson for Bright Horizons, said.  “We want to support families and help them balance the responsibilities of work and raising a family.”

Though Serpa acknowledged the violations, she was quick to point out that the OCFS website does not always offer a full depiction of the nature of the incidents, since it only cites the code that was violated.

According to Serpa, incomplete filing is a common violation. For example, violations may result if a new family has not yet completed their child’s paper work or if a new teacher’s degree was not immediately available on file.

Other violations may have included a box being “too close to the door,” or a “smudge on a crib,” according to Barbara Wells, the program coordinator for infants.

Wells said that the most serious violation occurred when a girl fell off a rocking chair and hurt her head while the teacher was preoccupied with another child. Bright Horizons reported the incident, which the OCFS subsequently investigated.

Howell added that Bright Horizons follows an active policy of self-reporting violations, so that when they do occur, they can be quickly corrected. Over the past 18 months, the center reported 11 violations to the OCFS.

“Bright Horizons is big on self-reporting,” Howell said.  “It’s important to learn from situations to make the care better.  Also, if they do not report something and [the OCFS] finds out it’s a big problem.”

“Everything is corrected right away, but it may not be reflected in the licensing records,” Serpa said.  “Our aspiration is for the number [of violations] to be zero.”

The violations were first publicized in an article that was published in The Ithaca Journal on Apr. 6. The negative press created a backlash that rippled through the local community and led to a resolution that several professors submitted to the University Faculty that called for more direct influence over the center.

Bright Horizons maintains, however, that the violations have been resolved.

“The violations are something that’s come and gone,” Howell said.  “Things need to be worked out and they are. The Ithaca Journal made things seem worse than they are.  The issues are long gone.”

The parents of the children at the center also expressed their support for the facility, bringing food and beverages to the center last Friday. The Department of Human Resources also sent flowers to each teacher.

“I don’t understand the negative press,” said Judith Kolkman, a research support specialist in the plant pathology department and mother of two children at the center.  “The center does so much right. The teachers are wonderful, they’re happy and the children are thriving.”

“The teachers are extremely attentive, they are enriching activities for the children, the administration is responsive to concerns, and there is a lot of great stuff happening here,” said Gen Meredith, co-chair of the Parent Advisory Committee.  “It really is a very warm environment that is helping my child grow and develop into a lovely toddler.”

Howell said that the center has worked hard to improve their practices. She said that once she distributed a survey to parents to identify issues and discovered that the main concern was the high rate of teacher turnover.

“When teachers leave, it means that we lose the training and continuity in the curriculum,” Howell said.

In response, Bright Horizon sent mentors to sit in on classrooms with new teachers to ease the transitions.

Additonally, teachers, most of whom have certificates or master’s degrees in childcare, have been required to fill out considerable paperwork to keep track of the children’s attendance, health and sleeping patterns each day.

“The center has been doing an aggressive job to have a full and consistent staff, as well as trying to make transitions as low impact as possible” Meredith said.

“My daughter is in a room with staff turnover and they did a great job making it so that there was little disruption,” Kolkman stated. “It’s a large center for a small area.  They cast a large net, which doesn’t always work.  It takes a few years to stabilize.”

“It’s a new facility which means it’s had trials and tribulations over the last 18 months,” Shannon Flynn, a teacher at the Center, said.  “When there is a situation, everyone is on top of it.”

Original Author: Laura Shepard