Database: Nearly 29 percent of violations at Janesville day cares come from two centers

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Gina Duwe
March 21, 2015

JANESVILLE--The Janesville day care with the most state violations in the last two years also received revocation notices twice in the last six months for tax delinquency.

Tinker Tots Childcare Center, 460 Midland Road, was cited for 77 violations, with 19 of them considered serious, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families' YoungStar public search tool.

A Gazette analysis of state data on licensed day care providers in Janesville shows Tinker Tots had the most violations, followed by YMCA Preschool Learning Center, 221 Dodge St., with 48 violations. Ten of those violations were considered serious.

Those two centers make up nearly 29 percent of all violations among the city's 53 licensed day cares in the past two years.

Thirty-two of the 53 had five or fewer violations in the last two years. Seven facilities had none.


Kristi Dahlgren, the director of Tinker Tots, declined to comment for this story. She is listed as the contact on the state YoungStar site, and her husband, Keith, is listed as the licensee.

YMCA of Northern Rock County CEO Tom Den Boer said he has cleaned house twice, and recent state inspections showed no violations.

The number of violations at Tinker Tots is “concerning,” said Joe Scialfa, state Department of Children and Families spokesman.

“The numerous and serious violations cited by Tinker Tots has resulted in progressive enforcements. If Tinker Tots continues to fail to come into compliance, additional sanctions, including revocation may result,” he said.

About one-quarter of Tinker Tots' violations were deemed serious, which the state defines as violations that likely pose the most serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of children.

The state's child care public search website allows users to read descriptions of violations, view correction plans and see enforcement actions.

Violations dated Jan. 30 at Tinker Tots included:

-- Staff-to-child ratios below requirements.

-- Infants placed to sleep on their tummies.

-- A teacher who grabbed a toddler by one arm and carried him with his feet in the air about five steps then placed him roughly on pillows after the toddler bit another child. “The teacher cursed, slammed the door and left the room,” according to the violation description.

In her correction plan submitted to state regulators, Dahlgren wrote that the teacher was immediately fired, all infants would be placed on their backs to sleep and the center would always have extra staff to cover nap time ratios. She disputed a report of a staff-to-child ratio not being met.

“Tinker Tots has violated many of the same rules that programs in other parts of the state have violated, but due to the number and nature of the violations, Tinker Tots submitted a corrective plan, and a licensing specialist will conduct verification visits to ensure the child care provider's compliance,” Scialfa said.

The state also issued revocation notices for the Tinker Tots license Jan. 22 and Oct. 3 for failure to pay delinquent taxes, according to state documents. Both revocation notices were withdrawn after the tax debts were resolved.

Karie Kelly said her 4-year-old son has been going to Tinker Tots since he was 9 months old, and she's never had a problem with the center. Her son has learned a lot and loves going there, she said.

She said she's seen some of the violations but feels many of them came from disgruntled former employees. She said she has seen staff turnover recently and thinks that has resulted in some of the issues.

“I feel like Tinker Tots has gotten a bad name and doesn't deserve it,” she said.

Heather Jenkins worked at Tinker Tots from October through January and said she witnessed many violations. She quit because of what she saw and because her paychecks kept bouncing, she said.

“Nobody wants to work for free,” she said.

She and other employees reported issues to the state, she said, and she's aware of supporters of the center who say the problems are because of disgruntled former employees.

“I've worked in centers before, and that was by far the worst center I've ever worked in,” she said.

She said the teachers are great, and she feels bad for them, but it's not a good work environment because employees aren't valued. The staff turnover was sad, she said, and many teachers had come and gone in the last year.

Other former employees echoed Jenkins' comments, saying the center was understaffed, parents had pulled their children from the center, employees weren't consistently paid and Dahlgren was rarely there.

Parent Dana Wiese has been taking her 4-year-old daughter to Tinker Tots the last three months without any issues, she said.

“I know the teacher who she is with throughout the day, so that makes me comfortable,” she said.

She said she researched the center before choosing it, but she's an “open-minded person” and said the apparent issues seem to be in the younger-aged classrooms.

She moved her daughter to Tinker Tots from the YMCA because she had multiple teachers over the six months at the YMCA, she said. It bothered her to introduce and remove so many adults in her child's life, she said.

Den Boer addressed those staff issues, which he described as a series of “below-performing” teachers, directors and senior management. He “cleaned house,” twice, he said.

He attributed the violations in 2013 and some in 2014 to significant staff turnover and poor performance.

“I stepped in and did a full, comprehensive review of our preschool downtown and looked at if we started brand new, what it would look like,” Den Boer said.

A six-month review last May found new staff performing at the same poor level, he said. Those staff members were removed, and the facility started last September with a new team of teachers and managers, he said.

Using standards from the state and YMCA of the USA, the facility also put a comprehensive plan in place.

It's been about seven months since the YMCA's last violations Aug. 7, when it logged 16 violations ranging from flaking paint on railings, unsafe playground equipment and potentially harmful materials within reach of children to missing paperwork for medical logs, staff files and policies.

Den Boer said state inspectors visited the facility in October and December, and no violations were found.

“I'm happy where we're at,” he said. “We took it very seriously, between the internal performance issues and state objectives.”

Some of the parents who had voiced concerns and left the day care now are returning, he said.


The YWCA of Rock County runs 11 before- and after-school child care programs in Janesville for kids who are mostly ages 5 to 12, along with one 4-year-old kindergarten program.

Eight of the 12 programs overseen by YWCA child care director Lisa Peternel had four or fewer violations in the last two years. The remaining four had seven, seven, nine and 12 violations.

Peternel and her two assistant program directors visit each site monthly “to help ensure quality and maintain licensing standards,” she said. They go through a monthly checklist for things such as proper food storage and hand washing before and after eating. They also have a checklist for new staff members to ensure they're being trained.

A big part of remaining compliant is keeping up with paperwork, she said.

“It goes on and on and on,” Peternel said.

Forms are needed for everything from immunizations to training and certifications for staff members. 

Phyllis Schemehorn had zero violations in the last two years for TLC Daycare, which she runs out of her Black Bridge Road home. She's been doing in-home care for 30 years and has been licensed for the last 15.

She is licensed for eight kids but has three--ages 2, 3 and 4. She wouldn't say it's tough to have no violations but said some violations are trivial. She recalled getting written up once for not being able to find a medical book while trying to serve her kids lunch. She found it under a piece of paper as soon as the inspector walked out the door.

“That's something that bothers me. I suppose they have to come when kids are here,” she said. “The children need your attention.”

While some might say it's easier for a small, in-home business to follow the rules, she thinks it would be easier at a center because it has more staff.


State inspectors visit child care facilities unannounced at least twice a year. Inspection lengths vary and can be as quick as 15 minutes or up to 90 minutes, Peternel said of her experience.

Violations can be as simple as an uncovered electrical outlet or a refrigerator being too warm, she said.

State inspectors get “a small snapshot” of a day, but sometimes it's a day when everything's going wrong, she said.

High numbers of violations trigger additional state monitoring and more frequent licensing visits, Scialfa said. Eleven licensing visits were conducted at Tinker Tots this year through early March because of the number of violations. Progressive enforcement resulted from those visits, Scialfa said.

License revocations are determined on a case-by-case basis, Scialfa said, with the health, safety and welfare of the children being the No. 1 factor. State officials consider the number and seriousness of violations and the willingness of providers to take corrective actions. If the safety of children is immediately at risk, the state acts “swiftly to ensure their safety,” Scialfa said.

About 17 percent of all licensing visits result in no violations, he said.

Peternel of the YWCA said she couldn't say what should be a magic number of violations to raise red flags for parents.

“The best thing is for a parent to go and visit a site and ask questions,” she said.

She recommended parents ask about violations seen on the state site.

“Usually, a parent will get a gut feeling at a center,” she said.

Stay and watch the interaction between the staff and children, she said.

Schemehorn said parents need to decide what kind of environment they want for their children, and she welcomes parents to sit and watch her in action.

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