State Won't Put Child-Care Records Online, So Journalists Give It a Shot

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers state records on child care facilities an essential tool for parents choosing child care. That’s one of the reasons California keeps enormous archives of information on the 48,000 state-licensed day care, preschool and after-school programs.

But it’s not a big enough reason to make those inspection and complaint reports, which affect 1.1 million children, readily available to the general public. California, unlike most states, does not provide online access to its archives.

The state Department of Social Services (CDSS) has been promising an online presence for more than seven years, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), but hasn’t really gotten started.

The department told the State Auditor in 2006 that it didn’t have the budget to do the work and reiterated that in 2012, while expressing hope that federal stimulus money would get it going. That didn’t happen.

So CIR decided to construct the database itself and began requesting copies of the public records that would make that possible. The CDSS estimated it would take two years, require 500 man hours and cost $20,500 to produce the documents. The department said it could only afford to devote four hours a week to the project.

David Cuillier, an expert on public records who directs the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, told CIR, “That’s just embarrassing. Do they really want to be known as the dumbest, most backward government agency in California?”

He later tweeted, “Agency says it takes three months to export data. It's using stone tablets?” Cuiller obviously is unaware of the heady competition to be the dumbest agency in California government.

New software at the Employment Development Department (EDD) screwed up thousands of checks for jobless people last year. A new payroll system for In-Home Support Services workers―16 years in the making―was deemed an “unmitigated disaster” in 2012 and the court system is just beginning to grapple with the demise of its $1 billion California Court Case Management System (CCMS). The state spent $500 million over 10 years on a system to link all 58 Superior Courts with law enforcement, the public and 70 different computers systems that don’t talk to each other before cutting it loose. 

What the state does have is a rudimentary online child care facility locator. It is a sorry substitute for what that bastion of social service, Texas, provides.

Child Care Aware of America ranked California 49th in the nation (including the District of Columbia) for the quality and oversight of its child care centers. Only three states, including California, finished in the bottom 10 for both. California ranked first in the amount of money it received from the HHS Child Care and Development Fund this past year: California $537.1 million.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California’s Lack of Online Child Care Records Leaves Parents in Dark (by Katharine Mieszkowski, Center for Investigative Reporting)

What Types of Licensed Child Care Are Available? (California Department of Social Services)

We Can Do Better ( Child Care Aware of America) (pdf)

Leave a comment