"I would sum it up as terrifying, absolutely terrifying!"
Satya Starr is talking about the countless online ads she sees advertising cheap child care.
"It happens all over the county," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.
In fact, Satya says, unlicensed home daycare operators have run licensed providers like her out of business.
"They're offering much cheaper childcare," she said.
Using craigslist, the Contact 5 Investigators found unlicensed providers advertising "affordable," "discounted," even "name your price child care."
"We don't know if someone is operating unless we get a tip," said Tim O'Connor, spokesperson for the Palm Beach County Health Department, which oversees all licensed providers in the county. But with few investigators and little power, unlicensed providers, often go years operating under the radar.
"We don't have search warrant authority, in fact we can only be invited into a property," said O'Connor.
Of some 45 tips called in since 2009, the Palm Beach County Health Department has managed to confirm less than half.
"It's very difficult to find and very difficult to prove," said O'Connor.
In 2004, a former unlicensed daycare operator fooled county inspectors into thinking she stopped watching children from her home in West Palm Beach.
3 months later, a 2-month-old died in her care. According to court reports, the woman didn't call 911 when the baby stopped breathing because she, "feared getting caught."
The woman spent one year in jail.
So, starting online, the Contact 5 Investigators answered ads and visited several unlicensed daycare homes in Palm Beach County.
Inside one home in Lake Worth, the Contact 5 Investigators noticed the house was a mess. Kitchen cabinets were left opened and baby furniture was piled up.
In another home in Palm Beach Gardens, we witnessed one unlicensed provider and six children walk to a community playground.
And, at a home in Riviera Beach, we found a total of seven children under the watch of one unlicensed provider, touting herself as the cheapest child care in town.
We asked the provider to speak with us, but she wouldn't answer the door. Over the phone, though, she gave the Contact 5 Investigators an earful, questioning why we were hassling her. The provider said she was a single mother and watching children is how she earns her money. She also stated that she is not licensed and doesn't plan on becoming licensed so she can keep her rates low.
It's a problem expected to get worse with a tough economy and tougher job market.
To find licensed daycare centers and find out the requirements for all licensed daycare operators click below.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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