PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Every day in Palm Beach County, as parents put in hours at work, their children will often spend that time at one of the more than 400 licensed child care facilities in the county.
But a WPTV investigation has uncovered licensed child care facilities are not being inspected as frequently as required.
The Palm Beach County Health Department admitted late Monday afternoon 39 percent of facilities "did not meet the requirement in either 2018 or 2019." The department told WPTV they are required to inspect child care facilities twice a year.
WPTV started working on this investigation more than a month ago.
The Palm Beach County Health Department website says child care facilities are required to be inspected "3 times during the licensure year (or approximately every 4 months)." However, the Palm Beach County Health Department told WPTV in an email, "the Department website is incorrect, the contractual requirement is two inspections annually."
According to a spokesperson for the Palm Beach County Health Department, the "recommendation is to conduct three inspections annually but the requirement is two and the Department goes by two." A review of inspection reports available online found 40 percent of child care facilities in Palm Beach County were inspected less than three times in 2019.
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WPTV started looking into the issue after hearing from Jim and Melissa Franklin, whose daughter, Lilly, attended a day care that had gone over a year without being inspected.
“How are we supposed to feel confident and comfortable knowing that they’re in good hands?” questioned Melissa Franklin in an interview with WPTV.
The Department of Children and Family Services is responsible for inspecting most day cares in the state of Florida, but Palm Beach County is one of five counties where the local Health Department is responsible for performing these inspections.
Jim and Melissa Franklin first noticed the lack of inspections at Lilly's daycare, Surfside Academy in Palm Beach Gardens, after filing a complaint about an incident involving their daughter.
“I witnessed one of the ladies, who later I found out is one of the cooks, grabbed my child and forcefully sat her down,” Melissa told WPTV.
The Palm Beach County Health Department investigated the complaint, finding a staff member admitted she “grabbed” Lilly, and “forcefully sat [the] child down on the carpet.”
Surfside Academy declined to comment.
Jim told WPTV, "We found out in the case of our daughter's day care that a routine inspection had not been done in over a year."
Records show Surfside Academy in Palm Beach Gardens was inspected Oct. 25, 2018, and was not checked again until Nov. 7, 2019, after the Franklin's filed their complaint.
Jim emailed the Palm Beach County Health Department asking why so much time had lapsed in inspecting Lilly's daycare. The Health Department wrote back, telling him, "due to a severe staff shortage, we have been unable to meet this frequency."
In a statement, the Palm Beach County Health Department told WPTV "All facilities received an annual inspection."
"The Department is aware of licensed locations that did not receive 2 routine inspections during the years in question and is taking aggressive steps in recruitment to address the associated challenges," wrote a health department spokesperson in an email.
The department currently has ten inspectors and five vacancies for child care inspectors.
“At the end of the day, if it’s not being looked at properly, then you don’t want to drop your kids off in harm's way,” commented Melissa.
Jim and Melissa are still searching for a new day care for Lilly, but are hesitant leaving Lilly somewhere regulators have not inspected as often as required by the state.
“It’s certainly disappointing, and I hope that the DCF and [the Palm Beach County] health department will do as much as they can as soon as they can to correct that,” Jim told WPTV.