State set to boost hot-car cautions
Panel meets after boy, 5, dies in van
State regulators are cracking down on violators of child care laws following the death of a child at a facility run by a state lawmaker’s company.
State employees will observe the loading and unloading of children at every facility that offers transportation, David Griffin, associate director of the Licensing and Quality Accreditation Unit in the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, told a legislative panel Monday.
If the state inspectors — who make three unannounced visits to child care facilities annually — miss the act of transportation, they will make another visit, Griffin told the Joint Performance Review committee at the Capitol.
Likewise, Tonya Williams, director of the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, told lawmakers that her agency would be paying close attention to alarm systems designed to prevent children from being left in a van.
A law passed in 2005 in the wake of another child’s death required buttons be placed in the back of child care vans. The idea is that a child care worker would need to walk to the back of the van — checking all of the seats — to press the button and deactivate the alarm.
“They’re required to walk through it,” Griffin said. “We’ve had cases reported, and we’ve dealt with those, where a van driver would ask a child at the back of van to turn the alarm off. That’s not allowed. We’ve had cases where they’ve tried to stand on the back bumper of the van and reach through and turn it off.”
In response to a question from Sen. Missy Irvin, R- Mountain View, Griffin said some child care centers have had “disabled” systems, though he said it’s hard to say whether that was an intentional act or a breakdown.
Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, asked if there was any technological solution — independent from “human nature” — to ensure that children are removed from a van. He mentioned ID cards with bar codes or electronic child tracking systems as possibilities.
A law passed in 2005 in the wake of another child’s death required buttons be placed in the back of child care vans.
In addition to using the alarm system, Griffin responded, child care providers are supposed to sign in children as they get off the bus and as they enter classrooms.
Williams said weighted car seats with pressure-sensitive alarms are one possibility, but lawmakers and regulators have to consider the cost of such technology to the businesses that provide child care in Arkansas.
Monday’s Joint Performance Review meeting was announced last month after the death of 5-year-old Christopher Gardner.
He was picked up at 6:40 a.m. June 12 by a van from Ascent Children’s Health Services in West Memphis, The Associated Press previously reported.
The child was never taken inside the facility, which serves children with developmental disabilities, and was found dead more than eight hours later when employees were preparing to take children home.
The heat index for the area reportedly reached nearly 100 degrees that afternoon.
Rep. Dan Su l l iva n , R-Jonesboro, who has served as chief executive officer of Ascent since 2013, earlier said that “staff did not follow company policies and procedures, and if they had, this tragedy would not have occurred.”
Ascent operates facilities across Arkansas, including in North Little Rock, Jonesboro and Arkadelphia.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services has prohibited the company from providing any transportation services after inspections revealed several violations in the way children were transported to and from the West Memphis facility.