A Town of Tonawanda day care center could lose its license after state inspectors found five violations late last month.
The state Office of Children and Family Services may revoke Blue Giraffe Daycare's license to operate for violations that include the use of corporal punishment on children, the failure to properly report serious incidents and the failure of staff to ensure children's well-being, according to the office's website.
Blue Giraffe is one of 11 day care centers in Erie and Niagara counties that faced enforcement actions over the past six months, the state reported, including six that had their licenses revoked.
Blue Giraffe remains open while the review is underway, and owner Kathleen Lusthaus said she is seeking a hearing to make her case to state regulators. Lusthaus in an interview defended the services she and her employees provide and said she fired one staffer once concerns about care were brought to her attention.
"It's not to be trivialized. It's made everyone extremely concerned that it could happen on our watch," Lusthaus said. "But it seems like all the other people are so good and doing such a good job that it's like they're being painted by the same brush, you know?"
Lusthaus has owned and operated Blue Giraffe, at 3200 Elmwood Ave., for 29 years. She said her 25 or 30 staff members take care of children from 6 weeks old to prekindergarteners.
She declined to say how many children the center cares for at any given time but said it serves about 100 families.
Lusthaus said the state has never taken action against her center in all her years in operation.
A state inspection on Aug. 29 prompted by complaints, however, found five violations. The office doesn't go into detail on its website on what's behind the violations, instead citing the relevant provisions of law.
For example, day care centers are required to employ staff who "promote the physical, intellectual, social, cultural and emotional well-being of the children." Blue Giraffe is accused of violating that rule, along with the prohibition on corporal punishment and the requirement to report serious incidents promptly to parents and the Office of Children and Family Services.
"The program dismissed a staff member and is permitted to continue operations under close monitoring while the enforcement is pending," the office said in a statement. "OCFS requires all child care programs to report any suspected incidents of child abuse or maltreatment to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. Providers who fail to do so face penalties ranging from fines to revocation of their licenses."
Lusthaus said she fired one employee, who roughly treated a child in her care, as soon as she learned about that misconduct. The woman had worked for Blue Giraffe for about seven months, and Lusthaus said she had not heard of any concerns – about her or anyone else.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy," she said.
A woman who worked at Blue Giraffe as a teacher's assistant for three months, before quitting, described troubling incidents she said she saw to The Sun, a weekly newspaper that covers North Tonawanda, the City and Town of Tonawanda and Kenmore. (The Buffalo News publishes The Sun.)
Cyncere Green told the newspaper that she worked in the babies room from April through June and saw the lead teacher in that room force-feed a baby until it turned red and choked and also saw that teacher forcefully push down children to sit down. Green said she reported the initial incident to a supervisor, who did nothing.
Lusthaus said Green never relayed any concerns about the delivery of care and said the woman who was fired did not work with babies at the center.
"I would say that was not a credible report," Lusthaus said.
She said she would like to schedule a hearing with the state for next month.
"I hope everything is resolved, and we'll do whatever they tell us to do," Lusthaus said.
She said since The Sun and a local TV station reported on the threatened revocation of her license a handful of parents have pulled their children from Blue Giraffe, because they were worried about the center's potential closing and the abrupt loss of day care services.
But in general, Lusthaus said, "The parents have been amazingly supportive."
Blue Giraffe is one of 168 day care centers across the state subject to enforcement actions over the past six months, according to the office.
Ten are in Erie County and one is in Niagara County. The six that were shut down include Young's TLC Daycare 2, on Buffalo's East Side, which surrendered its license amid an allegation that corporal punishment was imposed twice on a 2-year-old child there. Buffalo police also investigated the accusation.
The facilities with pending actions include Mozee's Ultimate Family Daycare, at 83 Glenwood Ave. in Buffalo, which had its license suspended after police said a 2-year-old girl suffered a serious head injury while she was at day care.