by Kristi S. Schubert
In 2017, 523 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Nearly one in every 2,000 Louisiana children was a victim of sexual abuse—some of which occurred at daycare centers and schools.
Regulation of Daycare Centers in Louisiana
The state requires approved child daycare centers to apply for and obtain a license, a process that includes an initial inspection of the facility (and additional, unannounced inspections on at least a yearly basis going forward) and background checks by the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) on all employees and volunteers for criminal history as well as prior child abuse or neglect allegations.
What Kind of Background Checks Does the State Require?
An individual may not legally work or volunteer at a daycare center if he or she has been previously convicted of or pled guilty/no contest to numerous charges. These include violent crimes like murder, rape, and kidnapping as well as sex-based charges like computer-aided solicitation of a minor, sexting, and prostitution. Other crimes that might indicate danger to minor children, like Peeping Tom convictions and drug offenses, can also disqualify individuals from legally working with children in the state. (A complete list of disqualifying circumstances is available here.)
Do Background Checks Prevent Daycare Abuse?
Unfortunately, sometimes individuals who are prohibited from working with children wind up working in or being present for other reasons at children’s daycare centers and have the opportunity to abuse children. Abuse also occurs by offenders without previous records, teenagers or older children also in the care of the facility, or other individuals at the location with no relationship to the daycare center (for example, an employee of another retail store located in a shopping center with a child daycare center).
Daycare Abuse: Reporting and Monitoring
In addition to investigating individual reports of abuse at daycare centers, various departments of the state government periodically audit and investigate licensed daycare providers. Sometimes, these reviews expose child daycare providers who fail to meet licensing standards or otherwise comply with health and safety requirements. In 2014, for example, an audit examined four providers that received federal funding and determined that all four failed to comply with at least one state requirement related to licensing and one failed to comply with the required background/child abuse and neglect registry requirements for employees. Although these investigations are helpful, the government does not have the resources to conduct them thoroughly and frequently enough to prevent all violations.
How Does the State Regulate Daycares?
The Louisiana Department of Education maintains a list of each daycare provider that has met state licensing requirements and recommendations, including enforcing a certain ratio of kids to teachers and properly complying with child abuse prevention measures. The database also includes information about whether a daycare provider has previously been reported for abuse, information on recent inspection visits, and a statement of deficiencies if applicable.
Are Daycare Workers Required to Report Abuse?
Daycare workers are mandatory reporters under Louisiana’s Children’s Code. This means they are obligated to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect, including sexual assault, to DCFS for investigation. While investigations of child abuse and neglect at child daycare centers more commonly involve non-sexual allegations, child sexual abuse constituted 5.4 percent of reported child maltreatment incidents in Louisiana in 2017.
What Is “Sexual Abuse”?
Sexual abuse of a child can involve physical contact to or with a minor (e.g., rape, oral sex, or fondling, kissing, or touching of a sexual nature). It can also include other acts of a sexual nature that don’t involve direct physical contact, like showing pornography or explicit images to a child, revealing oneself sexually to a child, or asking a child to reveal himself or herself sexually. If your child reports behavior like this occurring at a daycare facility, you should contact DCFS immediately.
What Should I Do If I Suspect a Child Is Being Abused at Daycare?
If you know or suspect a child is being abused at a daycare facility, you should contact the police immediately. If you learn or suspect that your child or another child has been sexually abused or assaulted at a previous time at a daycare facility, contact the DCFS by calling 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437), toll-free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or by filling out a reporting form online. If your child has been abused or victimized at daycare, you may be able to recover compensation for physical and emotional damages. An experienced sexual abuse attorney can evaluate your case and help you pursue claims to get the compensation you deserve.