Carrol McGlaun's office at the Family Learning Center of Tyler is more like a treasure trove of dolls, toys, books and other learning supplies, but she said the space keeps her heart in the job she loves — providing safe and quality daycare for children.
But while the center where she has been director for the past several months has not been cited for violations by the Department of Family and Protective Services' Child Care Licensing in the past two years, Ms. McGlaun has seen problems in daycare operations in East Texas.
As a former childcare inspector, the 57-year-old said she has seen neglect and dangerous situations at daycare centers, and she and her supervisors made the call to utilize the agency's emergency shutdown procedure when a facility was deemed too dangerous to remain open until deficiencies could be corrected.
"My worst day was a center I went in where it was so chaotic, and it was nap time," Ms. McGlaun said. "I had cited deficiencies, and this was one of the one-month visits, and there was a little boy walking around the center, and no one knew he was unattended. And that was with everyone knowing the state was there that day. I was never afraid to leave a daycare, but I was scared to leave that day."
She has seen some directors buck the system and seen those centers have their license revoked.
Though there are daycares operating with multiple deficiencies, Ms. McGlaun said the daycare operations are in some cases better than the child's home life.
"It is a sad fact that the care some of the children get in daycare is better than that they receive in their home lives, and this includes the facilities where there are abundant problems," she said.
Ms. McGlaun said she has seen some centers struggle with just meeting the minimum criteria, but others seem to have no problems exceeding the standards.
According to the state Child Care Licensing site, there are multiple daycare operations in East Texas that have few, if any, deficiencies, and state officials applaud those centers for their hard work and meeting the minimum required standards.
Department of Family and Protective Services' spokeswoman Sharri Pulliam said the operations must meet 2,500 standards during inspections, which usually happen once a year. However, if there are any major deficiencies, then Ms. Pulliam said inspectors can make monthly inspections.
"When a daycare operation becomes licensed and they start the process, we always ask them to exceed the minimum standards," Ms. Pulliam said. "Those are only minimum standards that we give them and we want them to exceed those and we want them to be successful. There are a lot of good daycares here in Tyler and the surrounding counties."
Other area centers with no listed problems over the past two years include All About Love in Tyler, The Little People's School in Tyler, Kids Kaleidoscope and Growing Stick Learning Center.
Sabrina Thoene of the Bullard Early Education Center, which ranks among the area's least cited, said meeting standards can be challenging, and her facility.
"You can find good daycare here, and it's not always the most expensive that is the best," she said.
Mrs. McGlaun said parents play a big role in their child's care, and they should know who is watching their children.
"Be involved with your daycare," she said. "Before a child is enrolled here, we ask the parents to come to give them a tour. We want them to get to know their teachers and directors."
When it comes to child safety she said, "You just can't be too cautious. Sometimes it looks like the state moves slowly, but what they are actually doing is trying to educate and work with the centers to meet the standards.
"Safety is so important, but we are also building brains in this business."
During tour of McGlaun's center, the scene was one of laughing, happy children, age appropriate rooms for each age group, safety equipment on playgrounds and the watchful eyes of numerous teachers and even several Tyler Junior College students working toward a degree in child care.
All About Love Director Vickie Miller said the main equation in meeting and exceeding the standards is consistency.
"Once you have something down, then you must remain consistent, and that is something we practice here at All About Love," Ms. Miller said. "Once you get it down, it's not that hard to keep it going, and if you want a good reputation, then you have to practice, and here's that word again, consistency."
Ms. Miller said she believes the daycare operations should all strive to exceed the state's minimum standards.
"I tell parents to go to the state website and look around. If you see something severe, then look to see if there is a pattern. If there is no pattern and it was a one-time thing, then it might be a good daycare," she said.
The 23-county East Texas region has eight inspectors keeping an eye on licensed day care centers and watching out for unlicensed operations.
Ms. Pulliam said illegal operations often go unnoticed when they spring up.
"Illegal daycares are not following any minimum standards," Ms. Pulliam said. "No one is checking on them, no one is monitoring them, and we don't know if they have knowledge of CPR, if their location is up to fire codes and many other things."
With a new program, the state has added 40 new positions to Child Care Licensing statewide, and the Tyler area will now have an inspector specifically tasked to seek out illegal daycare operations.
"We will have an investigator (and) be actively seeking illegal daycares, trying to bring them into the light, bring them into compliance," Ms. Pulliam said. "We want them to operate if they want to operate, but they need to operate on our minimum standards.
"There are a lot of illegal daycare operations going on here in Smith County (and the rest of East Texas). You can find them on Craigslist. You can find them with a sign in a grocery store or on the side of the road. Illegal daycare is very dangerous. No one is monitoring those daycares, and so we want to encourage parents to always use licensed daycare."
Ms. Pulliam said the state's website is a tool for parents and anyone else looking for child care, but she stressed the information should be processed based on severity of issues and not just the number.
"I don't want people to be focused on the number of deficiencies on the website but the severity of the deficiency," she said. "And then use that information to make an informed decision on where to place your child. It is the parent's' responsibility to know the director, teachers and history of the facility. There are a lot of good daycare operations in the area."
While she said the state tries to work with centers, it will not hesitate to shut down a facility, like it did Tuesday with the New Life Learning Center in Tyler
"Again, it all comes down to child safety," Ms. Pulliam said. "We work every day to ensure your child will be safe when you drop them off."