10 kids found in laundry room

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Underground childcare operation discovered; authorities want steeper penalties

NORCO — State education and child advocacy leaders say laws need to be changed to prevent scenes like the one recently discovered in the River Parishes — ten children huddled together inside a Norco home’s laundry room, desperately trying to hide from authorities.

John White

John White

The episode played out two weeks ago inside the Barrecca Street home of Kristy Jones. It drew the attention of Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, who described the situation as “an underground childcare program” run by Jones as “an illegal business operating in the shadows.”

“As a state, we must address this,” White said. “We need criminal penalties in Louisiana for this kind of deceit and endangerment. Someone must pay the price for running illegal, underground childcares.”

The Department of Children and Family Services found Jones operating without a license and caring for nine unrelated children in her home in 2012. State officials said she later signed a court order halting her operation of any unlicensed childcare facility.

However, officials said, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s deputies investigated Jones again this month for possibly operating an unlicensed childcare center in Norco.

Investigation led deputies to the Barrecca Street home July 8.

“Deputies arrived at the home and knocked on the door, at which time they could hear the voices and cries of several children, which soon quieted down,” a release from the Department of Education said. “According to deputies, they knocked on the door several times before Jones’ husband allowed them inside, where they found Jones and 10 children huddled in the laundry room.”

Deputies reported 12 children, including two belonging to Jones, were being cared for inside the home.

Because violations of licensing regulations are not criminal offenses, law enforcement authorities cannot take action against the operator of the illegal childcare operation.

State officials are going to make follow up visits to Jones’ home and intend to file a Motion for Contempt against Jones.

Licensing staff will continue to visit Jones’ home periodically to ensure she does not resume care for more than six unrelated children, officials said.

State policies

Anthony Recasner serves as CEO of Agenda for Children, the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency contracted by the state to monitor the River Parishes.

“(Childcare facilities) are required to be registered with the state so we can identify any potential health and safety issues that may cause harm to the child,” Recasner said. “We can also support the providers, making sure they are bringing quality activities to the children.”

Jones is one of dozens of individuals listed on the education department’s registry, created in June to spotlight individuals who are forbidden by courts from operating an unlicensed childcare center in Louisiana.

According to Recasner, the most children a person can care for legally in a home without registering with the state is six.

“Right now state law needs to change to support there being consequences when those sorts of family childcare providers basically start up, and we don’t know about it,” Recasner said.

Despite the negativity surrounding the discovery of the underground operation in Norco, Recasner said the majority of childcare providers operate above board and in the best interests of children.

He said that is where Agenda for Children provides support.

The nonprofit organization based in Orleans Parish provides childcare resources and referral services to family childcare homes and childcare centers that receive public funding.

Staff members focus on ensuring conditions in a center or home promote a child’s health and safety.

“We go into an environment and make sure there is a dedicated space to ensure kids can have a good and meaningful experience, the owner or director has activities planned to stimulate a child’s growth and development and the children are not sitting around eating the wrong foods, drinking sweet drinks and watching television (all day,)” Recasner said. “There needs to be appropriate activities for kids to engage in with each other and with the adult in charge.”

Anyone who knows of or has concerns about possible unlicensed childcare operations is asked to contact the Louisiana Department of Education’s Licensing Division at LDELicensing@la.gov or by calling 225-342-9905 or 1-877-453-2721.

“Mostly, people follow the law and do what is best for children,” Recasner said. “They really do want to make sure their environment does not have situations that would be harmful to children.”