Iowa watchdog criticizes child center oversight

DES MOINES – A state agency failed to properly monitor a child care center after discovering children engaging in sexual behavior, according to a report released Wednesday by the Iowa watchdog.

Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider states in her report the Department of Human Services did not “appropriately sanction” the Child Development Center in Des Moines after complaints of sexual behavior among children in 2010.

The investigation began in March 2010, after complaints, including a reported incident of sexually inappropriate behavior. A DHS investigator asked the center, owned by Children and Families of Iowa, to submit a written plan detailing how it would correct some violations. DHS also reduced the center’s license to a provisional status.

About two weeks later, DHS received a new complaint about another sexual incident involving several unsupervised children. But a DHS administrator decided against suspending or revoking the center’s license. DHS did not visit the center for an eight-month period not long after the new complaint, the report said.

“Based on our findings, we conclude the DHS did not take reasonable follow-up actions in determining whether CDC actually corrected its deficiencies,” the report said. It doesn’t say whether the center’s license should have been suspended or revoked.

DHS did not provide timely notice to parents about child abuse reports and has not been providing informational Internet updates, the report said.

DHS Director Charles Palmer said Wednesday in written statement that the agency stands by its decision to let the center keep its license.

“We are responsible for assuring that minimum standards for the health and safety of children are being met by the licensed child care centers. We take this responsibility seriously,” Palmer said.

Palmer says he had accepted some of the ombudsman’s recommendations for changes, such as clarifying rules about reporting inappropriate sexual behavior to parents.