ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Even though the Florida Department of Children and Families investigators noted five incidents of noncompliance at the Little Miracles Day Care within the last six months, 9 Investigates reporter Karla Ray uncovered DCF’s own rules prevented it from shutting the place down.
Late Wednesday, DCF issued an emergency suspension to shut down both locations of Little Miracles Day Care.
DCF said no child should be present or cared for at either facility Thursday or until DCF determines it is safe for children to return.
A spokesperson for DCF said in a statement: "Our hearts are broken about the senseless loss of Myles and we will continue to support his family.
"We are conducting a thorough investigation and are assisting law enforcement with their criminal investigation. This facility was previously cited for not keeping proper paperwork, based on the tragic circumstances of this case, both facilities have now been shut down.
"We will continue to aggressively act to keep kids safe and will hold anyone accountable who doesn’t follow the law."
A spokesperson for DCF told Channel 9's Cuthbert Langley Thursday morning that the driver accused of leaving Hill in the van was "not approved as a driver on the facility's roster." DCF would not release the driver's name, citing the ongoing investigation.
What does it take to shut down a daycare?
9 Investigates found some violations that allow day care centers to stay open could be downright dangerous.
Only the most serious violations, called “Class 1,” can result in DCF immediately taking a day care’s license. In fact, day care providers can be caught sleeping on the job; day care transport drivers can be caught without licenses; and there can even be knives or poisonous chemicals within the reach of kids, and the owners would likely only face a fine, unless a child dies.
Even though a sign outside Little Miracles Day care shows it’s closed until further notice, the owners technically still had a license to operate, despite the death of Myles Hill.
“There’s many steps they have to go through in order to enforce the code that governs child care centers,” attorney Matt Morgan said.
Morgan has filed suits against other day care centers for alleged negligence.
In order for the state to take swift action against a day care provider’s license, 9 Investigates found a child has to be in grave danger, become seriously injured or die.
Florida Administrative Code breaks down day care noncompliance violations by class. Last month, when Little Miracles was caught not keeping proper transportation logs, which are intended to ensure that no child is left behind in a vehicle, it was considered “Class 3” noncompliance. Class 3 is the least serious offense, not even carrying a fine until the third violation.
Three out of the four violations the facility received during a March License Renewal Inspection were considered slightly more serious “Class 2” noncompliance issues. However, those don’t carry fines until the second violation of the same offense.
Not even Class 1 violations, which are considered the most serious, require DCF to revoke a license right away. Such offenses include employees supervising children while drunk or on drugs, allowing a firearm to be within reach of kids, and children being left behind in cars. Under DCF’s own rules, the agency is not required to take action against a day care’s license until a third such offense.
“There’s a lot of different chances these childcare centers are given, it needs to be scrutinized to see if they need as many chances they're given under the current code,” Morgan said.
State Rep. Bruce Antone agreed.
“We need a strong set of recommendations from the Department of Children and Families, on how do we better regulate day cares that are consistently in violation of certain rules and regulations,” Antone said. "We need do everything we can to protect these kids."
Little Miracles and dozens of other day cares sit in Antone’s district and he said it was a difficult, fine line families had to walk.
"If we begin to really take a hard stance on some of these violations, there's a lot of day cares that could end up going out of business, which could leave a lot of parents struggling," Antone said.
“There’s definitely a lot of families in my district that would not be able to afford a higher-priced daycare," he added. "Their choices are limited.”
DCF has discretion to pull a license before a third serious Class 1 offense, and in the case of Little Miracles, officials said they’re trying to shut the facility down with every legal option they have.
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