For the first time, Maine parents deciding on a day care provider for their children or who want to know whether their day care provider has licensing violations can look at state inspection reports online.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Monday unveiled an updated database of the state’s child care providers, correcting deficiencies in a previous version that did not display the reports and also contained outdated information, including high rankings for at least one day care center where children were abused.

The move comes after a series of stories in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram last winter revealed the state’s day care database provided inadequate and outdated information on quality rankings and licensing information. In January 2014, Sunshine Child Care & Preschool in Lyman still received the second-highest ranking in the state’s database four months after it had been sanctioned by the state and given a conditional license for a host of violations detailed in a nine-page report filed by DHHS inspectors. Sunshine closed that January shortly after its problems with state inspectors appeared in media reports.

DHHS officials say the new database, which was under development for months and cost the state $23,000, gives Maine parents more information about licensing and enforcement actions and reports of corrective actions the state may have taken against a provider. The website was working Monday. A random search of several day cares showed their licensing information and, if the day care received a poor grade from state inspectors, the full report.

Mary Mayhew, DHHS commissioner, said on Monday that the revamped website is part of the state’s reforms to its day care inspection program.

“It’s another example of our commitment to transparency and to provide meaningful information to parents as they make decisions about their children,” Mayhew said.

The Press Herald’s stories revealed that Maine had been one of 18 states that did not share state inspection reports online, making it more difficult for parents to discover violations uncovered by inspections.

Created in conjunction with the Maine Office of Information Technology, the database rates all of the nearly 2,000 day care and child care providers active in the state, including 741 in-home providers, and will be updated frequently, DHHS spokesman David Sorensen said.

Currently, 26 states post inspection and complaint reports for child care centers, and 23 states post that information for in-home child care providers, according to Child Care Aware of America, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Reports of abuse at the Sunshine Childcare & Preschool last January sparked criticism of the state’s response to reports of problems in child care centers. After weeks of scrutiny, the department made changes, including increasing the number of investigators.

The Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, a branch of DHHS that oversees child care licensing, increased the number of licensing caseworkers from 13 to 25 in the past year, reducing caseloads from 162 to 80 per caseworker, Sorensen said.

Before the reforms, Maine had one of the worst ratios of inspectors to child care centers in the country, according to Child Care Aware of America. Former DHHS workers told the Press Herald that those workloads left inspectors without enough time to conduct thorough inspections.

Child Care Aware of America ranked Maine 47th for its oversight of child care programs in part because of its lack of online transparency.

The state also was the sixth worst for the number of inspectors relative to the number of child care centers, with only one inspector for every 179 centers, according to the group, which recommends that states conduct four inspections per year for each facility and employ one inspector for every 50 child care centers. In Maine, the centers are inspected annually, and inspectors also respond to complaints.

Danielle Pouliot, who was living in Kennebunk when she pulled her son out of Sunshine Child Care because of unexplained injuries, said the addition of information about licensing and deficiencies will be “extremely valuable.”

“If there were information posted about previous incidents (at Sunshine), I probably would have taken my son out earlier and would have been able to avoid him getting hurt altogether,” she said.

Maine DHHS took no action in the Lyman case for more than a year, even after investigators determined that abuse had occurred. The state website contained no information about the allegations and continued to show a high rating for Sunshine Child Care even after the abuse allegations were substantiated.

Among the violations inspectors found were force-feeding children milk, “slamming” a child to the floor and swaddling a baby so tight that his eyes bulged. Inspectors concluded the center’s owners were “intimidating and humiliating” and that it was a “toxic and unsafe environment for children to be present in.”

In August 2013, the state granted the business a conditional license, allowing it to operate on the equivalent of a probation. The center closed on its own in January 2014 after the allegations surfaced in the media and parents began pulling their children from the program. Three families of children who attended the day care center later filed lawsuits accusing Sunshine owners Cheryl and Daniel Dubois of assault and battery, negligence and intentionally causing emotional distress for children. Daniel Dubois has denied the charges.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, supports the changes to the website.

“It’s a positive step toward more government transparency and will allow parents to make better decisions about childcare,” he said.

The updated database is www.childcarechoices.me.

Gillian Graham — 791-6315

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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