Child alone at day care, report says
A child was left unattended at an Ascent Children’s Health Services facility in North Little Rock on Monday and two staff members were fired, a state agency spokesman said.
It was the second such incident in five weeks at that facility, according to a state Department of Human Services document. And it follows the June death of a 5-year-old boy at a separate West Memphis facility operated by Ascent.
Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, is chief executive of the company. Neither Sullivan nor the company responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The Department of Human Services is investigating to find out what occurred Monday and if any state laws or regulations were broken, said Brandi Hinkle, a spokesman for the department.
She said she did not have knowledge of the condition of the child. Investigations normally take several days, she said.
“There are — of course — corrective action plans that we put in place generally when a situation like this occurs so we’re sure the children are safe,” Hinkle said.
Both Ascent and a separate witness reported the incident to the Department of Human Services. Hinkle said it was common for facilities to report leaving children unattended.
Generally, if the investigation confirms an incident, a facility is placed on probation from one month to a year, depending on the severity of the situation, she said.
As a result of the previous incident in North Little Rock — which was reported June 28 — another two staff members were fired and remaining staff members were referred to Arkansas State University for additional training, according to documentation provided by the Department of Human Services.
According to the Human Services document released Wednesday, other reports at the North Little Rock facility include transporting a child in a van with a broken window and transporting a child in a van with a door that did not shut properly.
The Department of Human Services marked these claims as “true based on the information obtained from staff.” It noted that children were not harmed as a result of either transportation incident.
Another claim — made by a caller and described in the Department of Human Services documentation — involves using expired safety seats in a van, safety seats used “for different children and not individual children,” and claims the seats were not always “secured in the van before placing the children in them.”
The caller also “reported that the center is dirty and needs to be cleaned.”
The Department of Human Services marked the claims as “founded.”
Other separate claims involve staff members yelling at children and in one instance grabbing a child’s arms.
Hinkle said probationary status generally applies to a specific site and not a corporation. The West Memphis facility where a child died is under a one-year probation.
“Although, if we were to see that there was systemic issues, we would consider that, but they are put on probationary status per-site, not per-provider,” Hinkle said.
Ascent operates 10 facilities across Arkansas. The company is “a leading treatment program for physical and behavioral developmental issues. We provide day and outpatient therapy for adolescent boys and girls and teens throughout Arkansas,” according to its website.
During the regular legislative session this year, Sullivan, who has served as chief executive since 2013, sponsored Act 576, which stripped a state commission of its authority to regulate child care centers.
As of Aug. 1, the Department of Human Services will not need the approval of the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission to establish rules.
After a February meeting, Sullivan said rules approved by the commission have been costly for child care centers, families and taxpayers, who subsidize some types of child care.
Jody Veit-Edrington, the commission’s chairman, said at the time that the bill appeared to be a response to the commission’s refusal last year to change a requirement for at least 50 percent of child care center employees to be certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
On Monday, a Crittenden County circuit judge set a November trial for four women charged in the June 12 death of 5-year-old Christopher Gardner, who was left in a hot van. Ascent fired the four women in June.
Kendra Washington, 40; Felicia Ann Phillips, 42; Wanda Taylor, 43; and Pamela Lavette Robinson, 43, have pleaded innocent to charges of felony manslaughter.