A new report has raised alarming evidence of the sometimes deadly consequences of allowing many religious day care centers in the United States to operate without any regulation.
According to an in-depth report by the Investigative Center for Reporting’s Reveal News, 16 states allow faith-based day care programs to skip at least some of the regulatory checks secular centers must undergo. This can range from no registration fees to almost no rules at all.
Six states are particularly lax in this area: Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
The story told the sad saga of Juan Cardenas, a 1-year old who went missing from his day care program at Praise Fellowship Assembly of God in Indianapolis in 2012. The child was eventually found dead in a baptismal font behind the preacher’s pulpit. He had drowned in two feet of water. Reveal said the staff was shorthanded that day, with just four or five employees supervising about 50 children.
When asked why Juan was in that program to begin with, his father gave a simple answer: “I thought they were going to do a good job because they served God.”
The report described numerous disturbing instances of neglect, including:
Indiana: Some infants at faith-based day cares spent so much time in dirty diapers that they developed blisters and bleeding on their bottoms. In some instances, unsupervised children wandered outside and onto highways. Parents filed more than 1,800 complaints against these centers with the state between 2007 and 2014 but in one-third of the cases were told the state’s hands were tied. “Supervision is not required in a ministry,” the regulators frequently said.
Missouri: Records from the state’s child care licensing division indicate frequent endangerment of children by religious day care centers between 2010 and 2014 – usually as a result of inadequate staffing. In one instance, two toddlers got loose and were found later out in the rain; in another case, children were given Benadryl so they would sleep at nap time. In another case, a 5-year-old was accidentally left in a van. He told investigators: “No windows open. No air. I got sweaty.” Ultimately, records showed many of these reports lead to virtually no punishment by the state.
Alabama: A disabled child sat covered in her own vomit until her mother arrived, while another child suffered a brain injury and had three teeth knocked loose after being trampled by an older child, according to recently filed complaints. The Alabama Department of Human Resources, which licenses day care centers, said it lacked the power to investigate.
While some might say that asking states to regulate religious child care programs is an attack on faith, watchdogs said that is absolutely not the case.
“This isn’t about religion and people’s faith,” Gail Piggott of the Alabama Partnership for Children told Reveal. “It’s about common sense and protecting children.”
Critics also said part of the problem with unregulated faith-based daycare centers, aside from poor staffing and training practices, is that those in charge believe they don’t have to answer to secular authority.
“We feel like our responsibility for the well-being of those kids is to God,” said Robin Mears, executive director of the Alabama Christian Education Association. “We’re going to answer to him.”