The recent abduction of 16-month-old Aiden Mullins from a Mountain Home child care facility, Open Arms Learning Center, may have some parents in our local area wondering how safe their children are while supervised by others.
There are at least eight child care facilities in Fulton County, all of which are subject to tight supervision according to Julie Munsell, a representative of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. According to Munsell, regulations come not only from the Arkansas childcare center guidelines but also from mandatory training child-care facility providers must have to become licensed operators. The training is structured for child care employees, volunteers and mainly supervisors to learn the proper steps of child pick-up regulations and procedures.
"Although it's not in the regulations, it's part of the intent for providers to develop a policy," Munsell said.
According to the Fulton County child care facilities contacted, all have policies in place to facilitate safe drop-off and pick-up procedures but similar policies used by Open Arms did not stop Mullins from being abducted on June 23.
Munsell said that the child care facilities must have a list of emergency numbers and names on profile but further specifications are left to the discretion of the day care facility and are subject to DHS supervision.
"We expect them to clarify a policy to verify that these people are who they say they are," Munsell said.
Open Arms in Mountain Home said, in an interview with the Baxter Bulletin, their procedure, which has been changed, was to allow parents to call in during an emergency to inform them someone else would be picking up the child, requiring I.D. when the person arrived. The abductor, Samantha House-Baser managed to get past Open Arms employees by calling, pretending to be the child's mother and saying there was an emergency and Mullin's aunt would be picking him up. When her ID was requested, she said she had already shown it to someone else.
One local child care center, Early Horizons Child Development located in Salem, has created a policy booklet with strict and clear procedures for employees to follow.
After explaining that parents picking up children must be on a list, signed in by an adult upon arrival and departure and a photo I.D. will be shown, a request is made for prior notice when someone else will be picking up children.
"We ask that if you are having someone not on our list pick up your child that you tell us in person, this is for your child's safety," the policy reads.
Two other facilities, Jackson Child Care in Salem and Little Bear Day Care in Mammoth Spring have similar pick-up procedures and urge strict adherence.
"If your name's not on my pick up list, you don't pick up the child, no ifs, ands or buts about it. That's what (Open Arms) should have followed," Pamela Jackson, owner of Jackson Child Care said.
Jean Beck is the licensing specialist for the local area and provides the necessary employee training for any new facilities or ones that need to update their training.
"We talk about supervision, what's on the enrollment form. All of my facilities have a procedure and have an authorized list and know its purpose," Beck said about the procedures taught to local child care facilities.
Beck said the incident in Mountain Home was a very rare incident and yearly record checks help to alleviate any misunderstanding about the importance of the pickup authorization list.
"When there's not someone listed for a child, I question that and they usually have a good response like they just moved here," Beck said.
Beck performs a yearly record check to ensure compliance with DHS standards.
Many sources for parents to check licensing and inspection results for local child care facilities are available through DHS and according to Munsell should be taken full advantage of. The Web site, www.arkansas.gov/childcare allows parents to find DHS personnel to call and detailed information about the status of their day care of choice. In the FAQ portion of the Web site, parents can find the list of minimum licensing requirements if their child care facility's methods seem in any way questionable or negligent.
The Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services urges all parents to ensure a specific child care facility is licensed and up to standards before putting the health and safety of children in their hands.