Child Care Provider Says State's Kids At Risk

A local man says children in Mississippi day care facilities are at risk and it's the state's fault.

Matt Dickens of Kid Academy in Gulfport is on a mission. He says he'll stop at nothing to make the state see that new rules meant to protect kids are actually putting them in danger. He says those rules are also making it difficult for good childcare facilities to stay fully staffed.

Enrollment at Kid Academy on Pass Road in Gulfport is so high owner Matt Dickens is about to open another school on Creosote Road in Gulfport.

"But with all the laws, in my last four years of running a business, I feel like the state is actually working against us."

Dickens says two years ago Mississippi passed a law requiring FBI background checks on all child care providers.

"It's a great law and Kid Academy is 100% for it. The problem is the law, it takes six weeks to four months to actually get the information back."

Dickens says before the state got involved, it was easy to do FBI background checks and put good people to work. Local police departments like Gulfport would do it in just days with no problem.

"They can actually run checks for someone that comes in with a release from your employer giving you permission, and for $15 they can have it back in one week."

Compare that to the state which charges $50 and can take up to four months to complete.

Dickens says after many complaints from day cares trying to stay fully staffed, the state changed the rule. It now says new employees can work with children without a background check, but must be constantly supervised until they're approved. Dickens says that's unrealistic

"The biggest thing I'm trying to say is it doesn't protect kids. It's a band aid. Can I guarantee you that a cleared employee is going to watch that other employee all day while they're supervising 14-16 kids themselves? It's impossible!"

He fears if something isn't done, children in many Mississippi day cares will remain at risk.

"The day they're going to wake up is the day a child is brought in a closet by that person that shouldn't have ever been hired. That's when the state is going to say, 'Well, it's time to wake up. We better go ahead and make some changes.'"

The state sent WLOX news this reply saying, "Although this new mandate has presented childcare and healthcare providers with multiple challenges during the implementation phase, recent statistics prove the invaluable benefit of this process in assuring safety for your facilities and for the patients/residents in Mississippi."

By the way, the state employs two women who regulate all daycares in the six coastal counties. They alone oversee 250 childcare facilities.