Four Kid's Country facilities in San Ramon and Danville will not be losing their licenses, according to the organization's Executive Director, Chris Erbe, after accusations that first-graders had been left outside and walked home alone.
In a lengthy interview, Erbe said Kid's Country is negotiating with officials from the California Department of Social Services (DCSS) and will agree to additional safeguards - safeguards he said were put into place voluntarily by Kid's Country before it received a license revocation notice from CDSS.
"They have no intention of shutting down Kid's Country. That was stated to us," Erbe said.
He said a settlement with the state that would prevent the four locations from closing is expected before the end of summer.
Earlier this week, CDSS filed a formal accusation, asking for licenses to be revoked at four of the 13 Kid's Country locations. The accusation cites incidents at Country Club and Bollinger Canyon elementary schools in San Ramon, and Greenbrook and Green Valley elementary schools in Danville.
According to the accusation, two first-graders were left outside the Country Club Elementary Kid's Country site when the others were brought inside last August. The two walked home.
The accusation also says that same month, two 8-year-olds were left on the playground without supervision at the Kid's Country site at Bollinger Canyon Elementary. The state accusation claims staff member "failed to follow school procedures in place and conduct a head count before returning to the classroom."
In January 2010, a 6-year-old was left alone in a bathroom at Green Valley Elementary while others moved to a different classroom. According to the state accusation, the child "exited the campus and started to walk down the sidewalk on his way home."
The accusation also says a similar incident occurred in September 2008 at Greenbrook Elementary, when two children, ages 9 and 10, "left the school undetected and walked home."
"None of this is recent," Erbe said, later adding, "We've never had a revocation (order) before. Not in 25 years."
He outlined steps taken by Kid's Country to prevent any other youngsters from walking away from the organization's 13 locations, including the purchase of walkie talkies for all on-site employees.
Erbe said Kid's Country is also removing assistant directors from child-care responsibilities, freeing them up to respond to trouble, and pointed out that the organization also has taken disciplinary actions - including suspending without pay or firing - against the worker involved in the incidents.
And he said all of the incidents cited by CDSS were reported to the agency by Kid's Country itself.
"In every instance, we did full disclosure. We met with parents. We held community forums," he said, although he later noted that those actions are required in all Type A violations. A Type A violation is any situation in which a child could receive serious or life-threatening injuries.
Erbe also said that not one parent hearing of any of the incidents - or a February 2011 incident in which a child used scissors to cut another's hair - pulled their child out of the after-school program.
In fact, he said, "We've had to add four additional classrooms because our enrollment is going up."
He added that Kid's Country has a competitive advantage because it's the only child care provider that offers services on school grounds, so parents don't have to pick up a child immediately after school and bring him or her to another facility.
Erbe also said that in at least one of the five most recent incidents, no site visit was made by CDSS staff, adding that state budget cuts have limited the amount of visits CDSS can do.
He questioned the effort to close only four of Kid's Country's locations.
If there's a system-wide problem, he asked, "Why not pull all 13 licenses?"
And he said the CDSS accusation sets a problematic precedent, one that's never been seen in California.
"You cannot aggregate offenses across sites," Erbe said.
That could have two potential outcomes. If CDSS actually were to close the four Kid's Country facilities, large child-care agencies such as Kid's Club, which has locations across the state, could potentially be shut down.
The other, he said, could cause even more trouble
"If they're not careful, they're going to scare every child-care provider in the state of California into not reporting," Erbe said.