A North Liberty child care center will close this month after the state threatened to revoke the director's license over a host of violations, including spotty criminal background checks, uncorrected safety and sanitation issues and inappropriate comments from the director, such as making fun of children for having accidents while potty training.
The Building Blocks Child Development Center agreed to voluntarily close by March 24, leaving parents of 52 children scrambling for care.
“That report just made me sick,” said Joanna Ray, of North Liberty.
She pulled her 18-month-old son, Boston, out of Building Blocks last week after talking with the Iowa Department of Human Services. Other parents who had not heard about the investigation left their children at the center as most recently as Friday without being told about the upcoming closure, Ray said.
DHS officials, who visited the center seven times since Feb. 25, told Building Blocks director, Linda Vawter-Morgan, last week that she could voluntarily close the center or the state would begin the process to revoke her child care license, according to a nine-page report filed by DHS licensing consultant Heidi Brown.
Brown’s report details 35 violations, with nearly half of those being repeats from previous visits. The center opened in August.
View report here.
Violations included failure to do criminal records checks for employees, missed fire and tornado drills and too few staff for the number of children. Prescription medications and cleaning supplies were found in reach of children, emergency exits were blocked by ice and snow and expired food was found in the center, according to DHS.
Building Blocks staff told DHS Vawter-Morgan was verbally abusive to them and the children, the report states. Several employees said the director forced children to eat, made fun of children who had accidents while potty training and called one child a “little s---" for vomiting on her.
“She has forcefully held a child on her lap during circle time, she has pushed a child by the face into the restroom and she has grabbed the wrist of the children to drag them to the restroom,” Brown wrote. “I have not observed any marks; however this can cause significant fear or discomfort to a child.”
Vawter-Morgan did not inform parents of sick children, including one who had a fever of 102 degrees and later had a seizure and had to be taken to the Emergency Room, the report states. Vawter-Morgan wouldn’t let staff contact parents unless children vomited or had diarrhea three or more times, staff told Brown.
Several violations were not corrected between DHS visits, despite Vawter-Morgan writing that she had made the changes, the report states.
“I am concerned with Mrs. Linda’s ability to tell the truth,” Brown noted.
A voluntary closure means Vawter-Morgan cannot operate the center for 12 months, but could apply to provide in-home care, DHS Spokeswoman Amy McCoy said. If the state began the process to revoke Vawter-Morgan’s license, Building Blocks could stay open until the completion of that process unless DHS found other violations, such as child abuse, that required immediate closure, McCoy said.
Phone messages and an email left for Vawter-Morgan were not immediately returned.
“We realize this can be an inconvenience for families, but we want to make sure centers are meeting minimum requirements,” McCoy said.
Building Blocks families who are looking for alternate care may call DHS’s child care resource and referral line at (866) 324-3236 or Child Care Resource & Referral of Southeast Iowa at (855) 244-5301.