Pre-K investigation reveals troubling findings

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Pre-K Investigation Reveals troubling Findings. Chad Pradelli reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on May 19, 2017. (WPVI)

The first phase of Pre-K funded by Philadelphia's sugary drink tax is underway.

Action News has been digging into the histories of these facilities, and we've found some troubling findings.

We reviewed dozens of State Department of Human Services' inspection reports and found facilities that were cited for failing to obtain mandatory background checks before employment, verify basic education, check references and do required fire safety training.

Among those is the Community Child Care in South Philadelphia. Our investigation found it has 81 DHS violations since 2012.

And this past December, an inspector cited the facility 35 times, from simple missing thermostats to missing critical background checks or mandated reporter training.

Otis Bullock of Western CCC said, "Probably more than half of these violations was based upon those files not being on site."

Bullock says files were kept at a different location. But this DHS report states one staffer had not yet requested the FBI Clearance.

"If we had 35 unresolved violations, if any center had 35 unresolved violations, they would be shut down," Bullock said.

DHS confirms Western corrected the violations and received its annual certification.

"The approval process was pretty daunting," Otis Hackney, Chief Education Officer of Philadelphia said.

He said he couldn't comment on any individual facility because he didn't have the facts. But he called our findings very concerning.

"If centers have ongoing issues, we are going to make sure that this addressed or removed from the program," said Hackney.
Our investigation found several facilities had instances of alleged violence.

DHS reports show staff at this YMCA on North Broad was accused of putting children in a closet. It allegedly happened in 2013 and again in 2016.

Another child accused a staffer of dragging him down the hall. YMCA President, Shaun Elliott, says the YMCA swiftly fired each of the accused and self-reported the allegations to DHS.

"We are never perfect and we can always be better, but I think we can reassure parents by being transparent, and by dealing with it and providing right training and coaching," Elliott said.

A Western staffer was accused of pulling the hair of a child in 2012, making him scream out in pain.

"We terminated the staff member and we provided training for all of our staff," Bullock said.

Prodigy day care in East Falls has been the subject of 4 personal injury cases since 2010, including one where a staffer allegedly choked a child while dragging her by the neck after the child peed her pants.

All of the cases against Prodigy were settled out of court.

Western, the YMCA, and Prodigy are considered Keystone 4 star rated facilities, supposedly the best of the best for Pre-K.
When asked was this an ambitious rollout by the mayor, and do you think the vetting process should've lasted longer.

Hackney responded, "Yes. If you look at a situation hindsight is 20/20."

The city says Prodigy and the YMCA also corrected violations in the mandated timeframe, and Prodigy took responsibility for its infractions. Hackney stands by the fast tracked pre-k initiative and says the city is committed to improving it.

"I want to make sure we get it right. It was a tight window to get everything up and running, but we are excited about it," Hackney said.
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