ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Former employees of a church daycare complain that teachers flicked kids in the face and drugged a 3-year-old so the child would sleep. You might think State Inspectors would threaten to pull the daycare`s license, but they can`t. Investigative reporter Chris Hayes exposes the child care safety loophole.
If the daycare is part of a religious group, it`s not required to have a child care license. That means there's no license for regulators to threaten. Parents like Kristy Wimer fear what it means for protecting kids.
Wimer said, "When you send your child to school and you go off to work, you have to know that they`re in a safe protected loving environment and when they`re not, it`s gut wrenching."
Wimer says it`s her daughter mentioned in this report from the Department of Health and Senior Services. she took her daughter to a daycare at Twin Rivers Worship Center on Tesson Ferry Road. Two caregivers told inspectors the 4-year-old was put 'alone and in the dark.' Wimer spoke directly to a teacher who said she watched it. Wimer continued, "Come to find out they had literally stripped her of everything, to put her in this dark room during naptime, most of the time because she was coughing and other times just because it seemed like it was a punishment for her."
Inspectors also document that three caregivers described seeing the director and her assistant 'flick children in the face as discipline.'
One caregiver reported the assistant director gave 'Benadryl... to a 3-year-old child to get the child to sleep.' Wimer`s Attorney fears what happens next.
Alvin Wolff said, "This is where kids are supposed to learn nurturing or trust and when something like this happens to a little developing mind and personality, the possibilities of what could happen down the road are numbing."
The Twin Rivers Worship Center wrote this response to the State saying the accused daycare director and assistant director no longer work for Kidstreet. The church said it's now trained staff on proper discipline and supervision. And the church said it removed all medications from the site and will only dispense meds parents bring in and sign for.
Typically at this point, state regulators would follow up and possibly take action on the daycare's license. But because this is a church, regulators are limited. Regulators have no say about how a church daycare disciplines.
Missouri State Rep Jeremy LeFaver, who`s from Kansas City, has tried to eliminate the church child care license exemption. He said, "We require everybody who cuts hair and paints toenails to carry a license, but not people who care for our kids. I think that`s a significant discrepancy in the law and I`m setting out to fix it."
He plans to push a bill, every year he`s in office. His most recent effort failed. LaFaver explained, "One of the main opponents said the main reason we`re opposed to it is because licensure requirements say you`re not allowed to hit kids with pieces of wood, or what they refer to as paddling."
Kidstreet, however, has a policy that says 'WE DO NOT: spank, shake, bite, pinch, push, pull, slap or otherwise physically punish the children.' That gave regulators a creative opening to cite the daycare for making 'false statements...' The State also used a MO State health and safety law to cite Kidstreet for 'noncompliance... concerning administration of medication.'
Since Kidstreet is license exempted, regulators don`t have the same leverage. Inspectors hope their presence will lead to changes and if the daycare ignores their findings, regulators can take certain findings to a prosecutor for review.
No one from Kidstreet would talk on camera, but a pastor gave me a letter sent to parents, which is very different from what the daycare told the state. You'll find both responses on our Web site as well as the DHSS inspection report and the most resent 'health & safety' inspection reports.