Missouri has a new Child Care Working Group, "to ensure safe and quality care for Missouri children."
Gov. Mike Parson announced the group's creation at a Monday afternoon news conference.
"As a parent and a grandparent, I personally know how important it is for parents to have safe child care in place, while they are at work or furthering their education," Parson told reporters in his Capitol office.
"One of the fundamental roles of government is to protect our children, and those who cannot protect themselves."
He said the new working group — comprised of staff from the attorney general's office and the state departments of Health and Senior Services, Social Services, Public Safety, and Elementary and Secondary Education — has until June 1 to recommend how to better ensure safe, quality child care.
Parson created the working group after a video surfaced last month, showing what the governor's news release called "a child abuse situation involving a former employee of Brighter Day Care and Preschool in St. Louis."
After seeing that "horrific video" and "videos from multiple cases in recent weeks," Parson said, "I am determined that we can do more to hold people accountable and work to prevent future incidents from occurring."
He acknowledged most "quality day care centers do a great job every day," but noted, "One case of abuse is too many — and our administration is committing to do the best that we can. The safety of our children must be a priority for all of us."
Two individuals were arrested after separate alleged abuse investigations at the Brighter Day facility.
Director Randall Williams, M.D., said Missouri has about 3,500 licensed day care facilities, and does around 1,500 investigations a year.
"About 400 of those involve child abuse," he explained.
Williams said part of those 1,500 investigations each year seeks to determine whether a problem is caused by "individuals versus systemic facility problems."
In the St. Louis case, Williams explained, "Those who investigated it (originally) did not feel it was a systemic process problem, but more of an individual (0ne).
"However, most recently, it was determined that this was a facility problem, since we had more than one (complaint). We had two complaints that we investigated and acted on, (just) in the month of February."
That prompted the decision to revoke Brighter Day's license.
If the operator appeals that decision within the 30 days, Williams said, the revocation automatically is placed on hold, and the facility can continue operating during the appeals process. Its provider agreement with the Social Services Department could be continued, as well.
Social Services Director Steve Corsi said his department funds some providers in a subsidy program that, today, serves about "25,000 families or 33,000 children across the state of Missouri."
Corsi reminded Missourians his department operates a child abuse hotline that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, "so that anybody who suspects child abuse or neglect could call."
That toll-free phone number is 800-392-3738.
"Last year, we took in about 126,000 child abuse and neglect reports," Corsi said. "Of those, approximately 6,650 were substantiated.
"Of the 126,000, about 930 of those child abuse and neglect reports were on day care providers.
"And of those, 32 were substantiated."
Lawmakers last year passed a bill requiring stronger background checks for child care center workers, including fingerprint screenings and criminal background searches.
Ultimately, Williams told reporters, the state will have to run those checks on 25,000 people — many of whom already were employed in child care facilities before the 2018 law went into effect.
However, Parson said, the new rules "will provide Missouri families with more peace-of-mind regarding the individuals tasked with caring for their children."
Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven noted 2018 law also required the Elementary and Secondary Education Department to develop "a quality assurance report," which she described as a "continuous improvement tool that's designed to review — among other elements — the safety of the facilities and to ensure there are safety-trained staff in the facilities."
The main goal of the new report, Vandeven said, "is to better inform parents and the public of each of the providers' roles and operations in each of their facilities."
Parson said he's not concerned that one facility's problems have caused the statewide review.
"I think we want to give all the tools that we can give (to) any of the providers out there, to make sure our kids are safe," the governor said. "We've also got to take care of the bad actors, and somebody has to be responsible when these incidents occur."