JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Parents trust that day care operators are caring for children as if they were their own. But that's not what was taking place at a local child care facility in North Jacksonville.
“It’s critical that parents take the time to do the proper research to make sure they're putting their child in the best possible early learning experience,” said Susan Main, Executive Director of Early Learning Coalition in Duval County.
Main says what happened at God's Precious Little Miracles, 1780 W. 45th St., should serve as a warning to all parents. Just this month one of their day care employees was accused of abusing a 4-year-old. Another report details that a 2-year-old was left in a hot van. As a church day care, Action News has learned God's Precious Little Miracles operated independent of state day-care regulations, governed by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
“We should have more oversight of all opportunities for providers offering early learning,” said Main.
Action News did some digging and discovered there are 41 faith-based child care centers in Duval County. State law does not require those facilities to be licensed or inspected by the state. Main says that should change and they should all be under the watchful eye of DCF.
“The law states that these churches are able to operate these child care facilities and do so without needing a DCF license or being inspected by DCF,” said DCF spokesperson, John Harrell.
There are a handful of religious exempt groups that choose to operate under state regulations. However, God's Precious Little Miracles was not under DCF's oversight. Investigators discovered most of the people working at the day care did not undergo a mandatory background check and because of that the child care center lost its religious exempt status.
“The fact that DCF can not go into a religious exempt and check on background screening unless they got a complaint, I think that's a problem,” said Main. “Background screenings should be checked by someone in all areas where all children are being served."
Facilities that fall under the religious exemption have to be licensed and inspected by a state-approved private agency. In this case, that was Narrow Door Pentecostal, of Haines City. Action News discovered a Lakeland day care under that agency's eye faced a sexual assault investigation back in 2008.
DCF tells Action News the investigation into God's Precious Little Miracles could take months to complete.