Palm Beach County report examines unregulated transportation of children by businesses and programs

It happens in Palm Beach County more than once a day on average — a kid needing rescue from a locked vehicle. Sometimes those vehicles are scorching hot and it's too late for emergency crews to save them, authorities say.

A close call involving a 4-year-old boy this summer in Boca Raton prompted the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office to convene a grand jury investigation of a safety concern: transportation of children is unregulated on the local and state level when it involves businesses or programs other than licensed child care centers.

On Thursday, the grand jury issued a presentment that offers recommendations aimed at correcting this problem and providing oversight, as the number of trapped children incidents are reportedly growing each year.

"Clearly there is a need to ensure the safety and accountability of every child transported by a business or program offering services to children," the presentment states.

The Boca Raton scare on July 26 involved Velocity Martial Arts School, 5970 SW 18th Street, which is advertised as a " Boca Raton -Pompano Beach karate school."

According to the report, a boy attending a summer program at Velocity was left alone in a 15-passenger van for about two hours after returning from a field trip to an area museum with 12 other kids. The boy, "T.G.," was discovered after his mother arrived to pick him up from the school and he wasn't with his group.

"When T.G. was found the windows were closed and the engine and air conditioning were off," the presentment states. The boy was taken to the hospital but had no permanent injuries and was released after a few hours.

No criminal charges will be filed in the case, said Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos. The report notes there is a pending violation against Velocity for operating as an unlicensed child care facility because of "T.G.'s" age.

The grand jury concluded that the case "illustrates the vulnerability of children transported by businesses operating in Palm Beach County that are not required to adhere to the rules for transporting children that, presently, only child care facilities must adhere to."

In Palm Beach County , licensed child care facilities are expected to follow standards established by both the state Department of Children and Family Services and Palm Beach County government. These include "common sense regulations" and detailed procedures for accounting for children in vehicles, along with sanctions for violators.

The grand jury recommends that the Legislature, the Department of Children and Families and Palm Beach County begin treating all businesses and programs that transport children with the same rules and enforcement procedures as imposed upon child care facilities.

"The recommendations … are intended to protect children from the needless exposure to injury or death," the report concludes.

The report cites that Palm Beach County Fire Rescue last year responded 450 times to incidents of children locked in vehicles, up from 427 cases in 2010.

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