As a single mother who worked nights, Megan Norris needed help caring for her infant son.
“I work in the food industry so I worked late hours,” she said. “Family and friends were not enough. I had to hire a babysitter.”
She placed an ad online and a woman answered. Morris and her mother, Lisa Crow, looked into the home day care.
“We interviewed her for an hour and I went to her home,” said Norris, who is from Weatherford. “I didn’t check every room, but I was told John and another little girl would be the only children.”
Morris started taking John in January. The woman told Norris that Child Protective Services had placed two other children in her care.
“With CPS doing that, we believed John was with a quality person,” Crow said. A spokeswoman for CPS would later say the agency never placed a child with that caregiver.
On Aug. 7, Norris took John to the woman’s house at 4:15 p.m. She took the child’s car seat inside, lifted the boy out and handed him to the caregiver.
“He was very happy,” Norris said. It was the last time she saw him alive.
Later that day, John was placed in a walk-in closet in his car seat. He died by accidental strangulation after his airway was cut off by the safety belt of the seat, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled.
Norris learned too late that the woman had been running an unregulated day care. She was watching 10 to 11 children at the time of Norris’ son’s death.
The day care was not regulated, but even those listed with the state experience ongoing problems. An Everman man was recently sentenced to prison for molesting a girl at his mother’s home day care, which was listed.
Signs —from harrowing and tragic deaths to data from recent investigations — indicate that North Texans should be extremely cautious about home day cares in this region. Many parents don’t realize a home day care can be listed with the state and receive almost no oversight.
In 2016, the Arlington region (which includes Tarrant and Dallas counties) led Texas in violations and investigations of home day cares, according to state statistics obtained by the Star-Telegram.
The region, which also has the most day cares in the state, has been at the top of the state’s investigations and violations list for the last seven years.
Since 2010, 27 children have died at day cares — both homes and licensed child care centers — in the Arlington region, according to state statistics. In Tarrant County for the same time period, five have died. No statistics were available for home day cares alone.
The state conducted 845 investigations of home day cares in this region in the 2016 fiscal year. Officials found 231 violations, ranging from spankings to too many children in a home to unqualified people watching young children.
“There are a number of contributing factors that may result in abuse/neglect findings, including public awareness and population density,” said Kelli Weldon, a spokeswoman with the Texas Health and Human Services. The agency oversees child-care licensing in Texas.
Greater public awareness has come in part from easy access to information. Parents can search for a regulated child-care operation or check the inspection history of their day care at www.txchildcaresearch.org
As child-care costs increase and the Dallas-Fort Worth area population soars, home day cares are multiplying.
The region has more than 3,400 registered day cares in operation. The cost can be as low as $10 per child per day at homes in Tarrant County with no minimum standards or training requirements. Fees increase at homes that are routinely monitored and inspected, a former provider said.
Nonprofits and government agencies will provide assistance for low-income families in need of child care.
In areas of west, south and parts of north Fort Worth, costs of licensed and registered home day cares range from $200 to $250 per week for babies 12 months and younger, according to Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth. In the Diamond-Hill area of north Fort Worth and the eastern side of the city, costs are $150 to $170 per week for infants.
The high number of home day cares in this area parallels the population growth in North Texas. In 2010, the Fort Worth-Dallas area population was about 6.4 million. In just six years we grew by 800,000 — to 7.3 million, per U.S. Census data.
As of Aug. 31, 1.54 million DFW residents were children ages 0 to 13, according to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services.
Parents should know day care types
Texas has three types of home day care: licensed, registered or listed with the state Health and Human Services Commission.
The state conducts background checks on operators and their families for all types of care, more than 263,000 statewide. More than 75,000 checks were performed in the Arlington region, which includes 16 counties, in 2016.
But after background checks, inspections vary.
For example, someone who applies for a licensed home day care pays a $35 application fee and must follow minimum standards — 209 pages that address items including first-aid kits, swing sets, wading and splashing activities and animals in the home.
They pay another $35 before an initial license is issued. If the operation does not demonstrate compliance with minimum standards within six months, state officials can extend the initial period one time for an additional six months, and operators must pay another $35 to renew the initial license.
Licensed homes are inspected at least once a year.
Day care warning signs: Too many children in the residence, lack of open communication, an unhealthy environment, no emotional support from caregivers, an unsafe environment and state licensing requirements not followed.
But registered home day cares are inspected every one to two years, and listed homes are not inspected unless there is a report alleging child abuse or neglect.
An operator pays a $35 fee for a registered home permit and $20 for a registered home.
While an applicant for a listed home day care has to pass a background check, there are no minimum standards or training requirements, according to state guidelines.
Child-care officials say there are warning signs for parents using or considering home day care operations, including too many children in the residence, lack of open communication, an unhealthy environment, no emotional support from caregivers, an unsafe environment and state licensing requirements not being followed.
“We always encourage parents to research their options, and find licensed or registered child care in their area,” Weldon said. “We also advise parents to visit the home while children are there, look around and talk with the director or whoever is in charge.”
Provider Lillian Green of Fort Worth, who has run a home day care since 2008, said “parents should always look around in a home where they are about to leave their babies.”
Texas has more than 1,700 licensed homes, more than 4,600 registered homes and more than 5,000 listed family homes, according to state statistics.
Tarrant County has 166 licensed home day cares, 692 registered homes and almost 600 listed homes.
At the Everman listed home, Chance William Moore’s mother was issued a permit in 2008 to provide child care for up to three children at a time. There had been no complaints against the day care before July 2016, according to state records.
In the summer of 2016, a girl who is now 12 told investigators that Moore had sexually abused her since she was 9.
Last month, a Tarrant County grand jury sentenced him to 40 years in prison for molesting a girl in the home for at least two years.
Officials with state Child Care Licensing ordered the day care to stop operations after Moore’s arrest. Moore’s mother closed the day care permanently.
A few days after Megan Norris’ son’s death in Weatherford, she spoke to reporters on the courthouse steps, urging other parents to be cautious about leaving their children with babysitters or in day care.
“Use a licensed day care,” Norris said that day in August. “I don’t want what happened to John to happen to another child.”
Authorities ordered the woman to stop caring for any children. Child Protective Services continues its investigation.
How to check out your day care
Parents who would like to search for a regulated child care operation or check the inspection history of their day care can do so at: www.txchildcaresearch.org
Source: Texas Health & Human Services Commission.
State investigations and violations at home day cares
The state conducts investigations of home day cares when violations are alleged, and when a sex offender lives nearby. Here are numbers of investigations for the last five years, and the number of violations found.
- *2016: 845 investigations, 231 violations
- 2015: 2,975 investigations, 233 violations
- 2014: 3,829 investigations, 272 violations
- 2013: 2,382, investigations, 211 violations
- 2012: 770, investigations, 210 violations
- *2016: 267 investigations, 66 violations
- 2015: 898 investigations, 77 violations
- 2014: 1,159 investigations, 79 violations
- 2013: 677 investigations, 59 violations
- 2012: 247 investigations, 67 violations
*State officials investigate every home where a sex offender lives nearby, but stopped including those numbers in investigation statistics after 2015.
Source: Texas Health & Human Services Commission