State set to boost hot-car cau­tions

Panel meets af­ter boy, 5, dies in van

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRIAN FANNEY

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.

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