On the surface, Iris Valley Learning Center appears to be a legitimate child care facility for young children. A quick Google search of Keizer day care centers reveals Google map results that place Iris Valley on top, with an average 4.5 star review out of 5 possible stars. The facility, located at 530 Dietz Ave, is one of the state’s largest facilities. It would come as a surprise to anyone who declines to research further that the facility was recently shut down by the state of Oregon after receiving over a hundred complaints in nine years.
From 2007 to 2016, Iris Valley was flagged for 102 violations by the Oregon Office of Child Care. Yet the state allowed the facility to operate for several years before finally taking action earlier this year. During that time, several young children were mistreated by care providers. Eight children even suffered bone fractures, the greatest number of fractures of any provider during that time period. Inspectors with the Office of Child Care also uncovered sanitation issues with dirty toys, carpets, kitchens, and too few teachers on staff.
Despite the citations, the facility continued to operate for several years. Iris Valley was fined a mere $325 over its 102 violations. Such a light slap on the wrist hints at several instabilities and issues within the state child care facility itself. Problems have accumulated for years within the state agency that oversees childcare facilities and little action has been taken.
Oregon Office of Child Care Audit
An internal state audit from 2016 revealed that the state’s oversight system enables problematic facilities to thrive. Questionable decision-making by regulators and inadequate rules let gravely harmful facilities continue operations. The audit, conducted by Oregon’s Early Learning Division, which oversees the Office of Child Care and is in turn run by the Department of Education, was completed in 2016.
The audit raised many issues and proposed several suggestions to help the child care office improve its performance, yet Oregon Office of Child Care’s director, Dawn Woods, was not interested in executing the majority of the proposed changes.
The Oregon Office of Child Care oversees 4,200 day care centers, 1,200 of which are large commercial operations like Iris Valley. Its services extend to nearly 106,000 children, or about half of the state’s children who are too young to attend kindergarten.
State Corruption Leads to Harm
Corruption within the state agency responsible for ensuring day care centers meet regulations allowed for several disheartening incidents to take place. In its first year of operation, Iris Valley acquired six violations (2006). Each year after that the facility kept tumbling downward. They reached 16 violations in 2007; 20 in 2008; and by the year 2011, they had 23 violations, an average of 2 per month. That can be interpreted as an average of two children per month being harmed either physically or emotionally by inadequate and at times willfully negligent practices.
One 4-year old child with autism walked out of the facility unnoticed. The child was later returned by a drive-through customer at the Arby’s next door. Another incident was confirmed in which a 3-year old child was removed from the class and placed outside on a dark night in February with temperatures just above freezing in an act of discipline. These incidents are just a small sampling of the substantiated incidents reported. Many other incidents occurred that, while “likely,” due to denial on behalf of the facility they could not be officially substantiated.
The Office of Child Care’s poor oversight also enabled other state facilities to commit atrocious acts. Some facilities were chronically understaffed, putting the lives of very young children in danger. Incidents in which children were slapped, developmentally disabled children were left soiled, and ignoring inappropriate sexual behavior between children all appeared in the audit of another day care facility in the course of just 2.5 years.
At yet another facility, one child had left the building and walked into a busy street while another received second degree burns. At a subsequent facility, a child had sustained a dislocated elbow that was caused by the staff, while another child had sustained injuries that required stitches. These incidents occurred in fewer than three months.
Eventually, such facilities were closed down. One of the audit’s suggestions was that management (of Oregon’s Office of Child Care) should go by a lower threshold of problems when deciding whether to suspend or shut down facilities.
In April 2017, Iris Valley Learning Center was officially shut down by the state to the complete dismay of owner and director Connie Williams who claims that the state should have imposed a gradual process of penalties, such as fines and probation. She also disputed many of the claims, stating that “any issues they ever found were always corrected immediately. Maintaining ratio and health and safety of the children were our number one priorities,” referring to the fact that Iris Valley cared for approximately 330 children, much more than the average facility.
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