The childcare operation in Copperas Cove that was investigated in June and July by the Department of Family and Protective Services was placed on “corrective action” by the state but will remain open for business, said an official with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
DFPS investigators have been aware since at least November 2016 of allegations of abuse at the childcare operation, according to records. At least one allegation of shaking a baby at Turkey Creek Junior Academy was investigated by the state agency in June and July, according to Lisa Block, media specialist with the Texas DFPS, previously.
No additional details were provided about that investigation, but as recently as May the agency reported physical abuse at the hands of a caregiver.
On May 22, DFPS interviewees said that “a caregiver was spanking children in the bathroom with the back of her hand,” according to DFPS records. On the same day, DFPS reported a violation of “minimum standards ... because when (management was) made aware of a child being spanked at the operation, they did not take the proper steps to ensure children would not be spanked again.”
When the Herald called Turkey Creek Junior Academy on Friday, Renee Vassar, the director who answered the phone, said she did not want to comment for this story.
A range of disciplinary actions can be taken by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the state’s licensing agency which, along with DFPS, oversees childcare in the state. The state can help the operation voluntarily come into compliance through an “evaluation” procedure and for more serious cases it can deny, suspend or revoke an operation’s license and impose financial penalties.
In the case of Turkey Creek Junior Academy, the commission took a middle ground by putting the operation on “corrective action,” meaning the state will help the operation develop a “correction action plan” to “help the operation identify and correct the causes of the deficiencies. Following the plan will help the operation come into compliance and avoid adverse action,” according to DFPS.
After the investigation was closed by family and protective services, the agency leaves “regulatory action” to the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, Block said.
The commission confirmed the investigation is closed and “the operation is scheduled to be on corrective action for six months,” said Kelli Weldon, press officer for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, on July 24.
“Based on this operation’s pattern of deficiencies, we placed this operation on corrective action as of July 18,” she said. “The operation will have more frequent inspections during the corrective action period, and we will evaluate the operation’s compliance with state standards and conditions.”
Weldon said the child care facility has been notified of the corrective action decision, and “waived its right to due process regarding the decision.”
Several of the most recent violations are listed as “high” on the risk level scale, including the “spankings” reported in May.
On June 12, Turkey Creek Junior Academy received two violations related to a pool activity: one caregiver who was supervising children in the pool admitted that she did not know how to swim. Another caregiver left the pool to go back inside, leaving only one person supervising children in the pool. It’s unclear how deep the pool is.
A DFPS report in November 2016 states that “during an investigation it was found that there was sufficient evidence that a child was abused while in care.”
The same report says that a child was removed from the lunch table and not given food as a means of discipline.
DFPS records show 39 violations over the last three years, which is as far back as online records go. Most of the violations were “medium high” or “high” on the DFPS scale of risk level to children.
On May 3, there was a violation for “children being allowed to watch T.V. without the T.V. being related to planned activities,” according to DFPS records. Turkey Creek had three other T.V.-related violations.
Other violations included crib mattresses not being snug, broken playground equipment with sharp edges and a caregiver yelling at children.
The records show that DFPS verified Turkey Creek corrected most violations and is licensed.
At a minimum, licensed and certified operations are inspected at least once a year, according to DFPS. The agency has inspected Turkey Creek Junior Academy 23 times over the past three years.
Turkey Creek Junior Academy is at 1101 Hawk Trail, Copperas Cove.
Two separate state agencies manage child care in the state.
“If there are allegations of suspected abuse or neglect at a child care operation, DFPS conducts the abuse or neglect investigation,” Weldon said. “They then communicate Minimum Standards violations or concerns to HHSC because we are the licensing entity, and we determine whether the center complied with minimum standards and take regulatory action as warranted.”
To look up the records on any child care location in Texas, visit the Day Care search page at: www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/Search_Texas_Child_Care.