Wendell, N.C. — Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned that food was prepared on a diaper mat. The story should have noted that it was found during an inspection of A Bundle of Joy Learning Center on Holloway Street in Durham, not an in-home day care with a similar name.
The state of North Carolina pays in-home child care centers nearly $36 million a year in subsidies, and many centers get four- or five-star ratings despite serious safety concerns.
At BT's Home Day Care in Wendell, for example, owner Barbara Johnson's husband, Michael Johnson Sr., isn’t supposed to be in the house until 7:30 p.m. because of his lengthy criminal record, which includes a conviction for assaulting a former wife seven years ago.
Yet, two days in a row, WRAL News cameras caught him pulling up to the house at 4:30 p.m. and going inside.
In her last state inspection, Barbara Johnson was warned to keep her husband away from the day care center after she told the inspector that he would stop by briefly between jobs. When WRAL News asked her why her husband was at the house while children were present, she denied it was him.
“No, that’s his son,” she said.
WRAL News later confirmed it was Michael Johnson Sr. by comparing the man in the video to his mug shot. Barbara Johnson later admitted that it was her husband.
BT's Home Day Care was a five-star operation, the highest rating possible. As owner, Barbara Johnson received close to $70,000 a year to take care of children who get state subsidized childcare. She initially told WRAL News that she'd never jeopardize that by breaking the rules.
“(My husband) respects my business,” she said, adding that he doesn’t come home until he’s supposed to.
Barbara Johnson now says her husband stopped by the house briefly to help move some things.
BT’s is an example of how the state relies on an honor system to some degree for in-home care. State inspectors show up only once a year in most cases, and the owners know the time frame when one will happen.
WRAL News examined inspection reports from in-home child care centers from around the Triangle and found dozens of safety issues, even at facilities with high star ratings.
At Kiss Kindercare in Chapel Hill, toddlers rode tricycles on a driveway close to a busy road. They also ate while sitting in their strollers because they didn't have seats, according to the report. Owner Kissue Mims told WRAL News that those issues have been corrected.
Kiss Kindercare gets $29,000 a year from the state. It was a two-star facility when the inspection was done last year, but it's now listed as a four-star center.
Bundles of Joy Christian Day Care, at 3500 Penn Drive in Durham, was licensed for five children, but 10 were there during a state inspection. Shonda Parrish, owner of Bundles of Joy, said some of the children present at the time of inspection were her own, and that she planned to follow up with the state.
Bundles of Joy is a three-star facility and receives nearly $61,000 from the state.
Anna Carter, deputy director for the state Division of Child Development, said parents need to bear some of the responsibility.
“You know, parents have a big responsibility. They are there every day, and they are seeing what’s happening,” Carter said.
Homes have to meet a certain safety standard to get a license, but the star rating is based on the education level of the provider and the education program at the center. For the way things run day-to-day between annual inspections, parents are often the eyes, ears and the accountability, especially at home centers where only one adult may be present, Carter said.
“They are aware if we find them in violation, they are putting their license at risk,” she said.
After WRAL News told the state about Michael Johnson Sr. visiting BT's when children were present, Barbara Johnson's license was revoked. She can appeal, but the shutdown was effective immediately.
Both in-home and large scale child care centers are inspected annually, and the inspection reports are posted online.
North Carolina day care statistics:
- $35,936,717.97 – amount of child care subsidies provided to in-home child care facilities in 2010
- $389,040,386.82 – amount of subsidy dollars paid to day care centers in 2010
- 17,554 – total number of children who received a subsidy in an in-home child care facility in 2010
- 128,990 – total number of children who received a subsidy in a day care center in 2010