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State fines K.C.'s; now in compliance

COVINGTON — Bright from the Start of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning has released its findings from an investigation into K.C.'s 24 Hr. Child Care Center stemming from a May 2009 incident involving a 2-year-old who wandered into traffic outside the facility.

"The last monitoring visit was in December and they are compliant," said Stacey Moore, public relations director of Bright from the Start.

Moore said the center was required to pay what she called a "civil penalty" of $299 and make certain corrections in its day-to-day operations.

Bright from the Start is the state agency charged with licensing day care centers and registered family day care homes.

The incident that spurred the investigation occurred on May 20 around 8 p.m. when a 2-year-old child was snatched from oncoming traffic by a passerby when she was seen attempting to cross U.S. Highway 278.

The Covington Police Department was called to the scene and there was a delay in identifying the child as workers at the center did not know her name. It wasn't until the little girl's brother, who was also staying at K.C.'s, identified her that officers were able to determine who she was and contact a parent.

The Bright from the Start investigation determined the following: "Children were not supervised in that on May 20, 2009, at approximately 7:55 p.m., a 2-year-old child left her classroom, walked down the hall, and exited the facility through the front side door. The child was found crossing a four-lane highway with a median separating the two directional flows of traffic. The investigation further revealed that the center staff routinely left children unsupervised during evening care when the evening manager left the room to go down the hall to lock and unlock the front door or receive payments from parents."

The investigation also determined, "The center did not have a complete file accessible to center staff for a 2-year-old child who left the center and was found crossing a four-lane street. The child's file could not be located until the assistant director arrived at the center and obtained the file on a front desk."

Also, it was determined there was an inadequate child-to-staffing ratio at the center at the time of the incident.

Bright from the Start has made several inspections following these findings to make sure the center, located at 5119 U.S. Highway 278, corrected the breaches of code, as well as other problems discovered at the center.

Among problems documented and identified for improvement were requirements for ventilation repair and cleaning in bathrooms; daily disinfecting of bathrooms; hazardous fencing on the playground; correct seat belt buckling and required information on all transported children; a first aid kit in transportation van; inadequate supervision of children while in cafeteria; and inadequate linens on cots.

The final report, dated Dec. 4, 2009, shows that "the director" will see that all recommendations from Bright from the Start are met and will familiarize staff with those requirements.

Director Kathy Cain said she regretted the incident happened, although she maintained the center was in compliance (with Bright from the Start regulations) at the time.

"I'm just grateful the child wasn't hurt and it turned out as good as it did. It was a bad incident and the worker that it happened to had been with me 25 years. She is still distraught," Cain said.

Cain said a video surveillance camera inside the center showed that the child fled the room when the worker's back was turned to clean up another child.

"She went down the hall, touching every door until she found a door that would open.

The fire marshal wrote a letter in our behalf saying we couldn't put a lock on that door except from the outside because it is a fire door," Cain said. "She was on a mission and her mission was to get out of the building, and she did. It was just God's blessing that there wasn't a fatality. I hate it for everybody. It's one of those things you don't want to ever happen to you."

An open records request filed with the Covington Police Department showed several complaints at K.C.'s, including children leaving the premises while in the care of the center in 1994 and 2008, and a "missing child" who was found locked in the restroom in 2003.