Section 8


The Miami Herald
September 10, 2006 Sunday

Miramar may end city-run tot care;
Miramar's Early Childhood program is under scrutiny after a parent accused the day-care operation of harming a 5-month-old in its care.


Miramar is reconsidering whether to discontinue its day-care program after a 5-month-old's injury led to a county fine, a police probe and an internal inquiry into its practices.

The 27-year-old program, offered to city employees and residents, enrolls 380 kids under the age of 4 in four facilities.

In the past, the program has been lauded for its good work.

But in May, Miramar police officer Troy Wilson, whose daughter was enrolled at the city's Sunset Lakes' facility, filed a complaint alleging the baby's injuries were the result of abuse.

Broward County's Child Care Licensing and Enforcement, which regulates day care, investigated and issued a notice of violation at the facility for having more children than its workers were able to care for. The city is facing a $100 fine, which it is appealing.

Miramar police later concluded there was no evidence of abuse or wrongdoing.

However, a review of employee and criminal records by The Miami Herald has found that four people who work in the program have had criminal charges filed against them -- including battery, drunken driving, drug possession and larceny.

Among them is a supervisor, Shannon Bird, a 13-year city employee who was charged last year with battery following a road-rage incident in which Plantation police said she punched a motorist with her fist.

Several of the charges of the employees later had adjudication withheld -- which means that the person admits the crime but it doesn't go on his or her record.

But because the Miramar employees' adjudication, or because they weren't fireable offenses by state statute, it is legal for them to work in day care, Miramar officials said.

People who have a history of abusing children or the elderly or have an aggravated battery conviction are not allowed by state to work at day-care centers.

Still, a city internal probe recommended 17 changes in the program -- including installing video monitoring and conducting a professional security review.

The probe also suggested the city reconsider operating a child-care business.

''Given the high and growing liabilities associated with such programs, a policy decision should be considered by the (city) as to whether or not city should remain in infant care,'' wrote Phil Rosenberg, Miramar's Human Resources director, in a report.

Administrators in Miramar contacted by The Miami Herald said they knew of the records but allowed the employees to work for the city because they have a good history with the program and are legally allowed to. They pointed out that some of the charges never led to convictions.

The state Department of Children and Families requires day-care centers to do background checks on all workers.

''None of the them have any charges that would disqualify them from working with us in the child-care industry,'' said Carolyn Cervantti, assistant human resources director in Miramar.

Bird, 36, director of the city's Vicki Coceano Youth Center, originally was charged with battery and criminal mischief. Bird pleaded no contest after the charges were reduced.

According to the Plantation police report, on Sept. 19, 2005 after a woman cut her off in traffic, Bird yelled ''Where did you get your license from?'' and then punched the woman in the mouth with a closed fist, causing a small abrasion to the woman's lip. Bird then kicked the woman's car door and grabbed her hair before the woman's son intervened, the report said.

As part of her punishment, the city placed Bird on administrative leave for three months. She also completed an anger management program in July as required by the courts. She was sentenced to a year of probation.

''We can tell you she's an outstanding employee,'' said Lowell Borges, Miramar's community services director. Bird declined to comment for this story.

Worker Kathryn Wimbley plead guilty to felony possession of cocaine with intent to deliver in 1990. However, Wimbley's adjudication was withheld and she received two years probation.

Aide Yvonne Strachen did not contest a 2005 DUI charge in Hallandale Beach. She was sentenced to one year of probation and a six-month license suspension.

Child-care safety expert Debra Kimbrough says that states do background checks as a ``red flag.''

''Second chances do not come with blind faith,'' Kimbrough said. ``Those who have been charged should demonstrate what they've done since the incidents to alter their behavior patterns.''

Parents contacted by The Miami Herald said they are satisfied with the program, which is more affordable than private care and nestled within city neighborhoods.

The cost ranges from $110 per week for four-year-olds -- to $150 a week for infants, a bargain-basement price. At La Petite Academy in Pembroke Pines, which is considered among the more affordable child-care centers, parents are charged $166 a week to care for infants up to age one and $140 a week for four-year-olds.

''I think they should have the background files available for the parents to see by request,'' said Sandra Monteiro, who has two children ages 2 and 4 in Miramar's program. ``Everyone has a right to a second chance, but parents should know about the charges.''


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