MEDFORD, Ore. – A group of young kids enjoys arts and crafts time at Wee Watch ‘Em day care in Medford. A smaller group of toddlers run around in a playpen nearby. Wee Watch ‘Em is one of 84 certified day cares in Jackson County, all following a similar set of regulations.
Those businesses, along with another 132 registered family day cares in the county watch over about 4,000 kids in the area. And they face some of the strictest standards of any public facility.
“You have a highly susceptible population because they’re young children, usually under the age of five,” said Bonnie Simpson, a Day Care Inspector with Jackson County Environmental Public Health. In order to operate, each certified facility has to pass one inspection per year from a state certified inspector.
The results are handed off to the Office of Child Care, which reviews everything from background checks of the operators, to sanitation and food handling, to the indoor and outdoor environment of the facility. Last year, not a single day care license was revoked. That means, at the very least, every facility passed the most serious expectations held by the state.
“The most clear cut ones would be if the Department of Human Services — DHS or Child Protective Services — has founded abuse or neglect,” said Kim Yasutake, a Licensing Specialist with the Office of Child Care. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any violations. Inspection reports filed last year by the Department of Environmental Public Health found a range of problems. One facility in Ashland had evidence of rodents in food storage.
Another center in Medford was found with exposed nails and loose boards in their outdoor fencing. Yet another Medford facility was written up for having a play area outside the view of supervisors. And multiple day cares were cited for first aid kits that were either poorly stocked or left unlocked, refrigerators left too warm, or excessive concentration of bleach in cleaning solutions. Each violation was flagged, but none were major enough for immediate action.
“We try to work with providers and move them on the path toward compliance,” said Yasutake. “Revocation of a license is always a last resort.” Yasutake says small violations can be grounds for license suspension or revocation if they become chronic. But while that has happened in the past, it’s very rare. And despite the range of violations last year, reports from day cares inspected over multiple visits show that issues rarely appear more than once.
“They are primarily people that love the children and want to protect the children,” said Simpson. “If you say, ‘this is how you do it,’ they’re going to do it that way.” The state Office of Child Care follows up on reports from parents and witnesses, not just reports from certified inspectors. They say to report any issues as soon as possible. State law also requires day care providers to produce a copy of state rules and regulations upon request.