The state Human Services Department
has begun responding to questions I raised arising from news last week of a lawsuit and a battery charge
filed against a former worker at a pre-K, Anderson's Taekwondo Center
, for physical abuse of a four-year old.
DHS confirms an investigation and corrective action over "discipline" so harsh it allegedly resulted in bruised and battered buttocks. More details on that to come later.
But spokeswoman Amy Webb also responded to questions I asked because the lawsuit quoted a center official as saying "everyone" knew the center used corporal punishment. An attorney for the center was quoted on TV as saying the mother who filed the suit had signed a form permitting the punishment.
Webb said 1) physical punishment is NOT allowed by state rules; 2) the state had NO knowledge of it prior to the complaint, and 3) the center did NOT have a form that allowed corporal punishment. Her response, in part:
We initiated a licensing investigation immediately upon learning of the allegations. We do NOT allow programs to use physical punishment and would not have been OK with that facility doing so. Our staff was unaware that physical punishment was being used at that facility, and any statement to the contrary is simply untrue. Based on the incident, we found that the facility did violate state regulations and ordered several corrective action measures.
Parents were required to sign general release forms ... that gave the facility permission to provide medical care and to “give authority to Chief Master Anderson to discipline my child if needed.” It did not ask for permission to use physical punishment. Moreover, state regulations do allow for forms of discipline .... so that phrase on the form did not indicate “physical punishment” to our specialists. Note that state regulations clearly outline punishments that are unacceptable, including “inflicting physical pain, hitting, pinching, pulling hair, slapping, kicking, twisting arms, biting or biting back, spatting, swatting, etc.”
After this incident, we had the facility remove the language about discipline from that form.
Webb objected to my lumping this incident Saturday in our ongoing reporting about shortcomings in the state "child welfare system." She says child welfare is, in the state's view, its handling of children through the Division of Children and Family Services,
which, among others, oversees the foster family program.
Early childhood education is not a part of DCFS and thus not "child welfare," in the state's view. I see it differently. The state puts millions in the hands of people who run daycare and pre-K programs, if not in direct support through licensing certification. (Correction: I learned after my original post that this center is not a state-funded pre-K, but it receives voucher funding and is state licensed.) They are inspected to ensure safe and clean premises; adequate and safe nutrition, and an absence of abuse (and unconstitutional religious instruction) by recipients of public money. These are child welfare issues. The cases of both Rep. Justin Harri
s, at his state-financed pre-K, Growing God's Kingdom, and "Master" Anderso
n demonstrate the regulatory system has shortcomings.
Both DCFS and early childhood education fall under the umbrella of Human Services, a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar operation with a nearly impossible task of serving the young, the poor, the weak, the ill and the infirm in some of the most desperate straits imaginable. I'm sympathetic to the challenges they face. But it is all, really, about the welfare of human begins, child and adult.
UPDATE: I've received documents generated by a DHS investigation of the complaint. It concluded by barring the man accused of abuse from being a worker at a licensed facility, but the center's license was unaffected. But it also quotes school director Anderson as claiming there was a clause in an agreement with parents allowing physical punishment. Corrective action include new background checks for all employees and volunteers; training; a direction against physical punishment (and a limitation on time-out punishment to one minute per one year of age). Inspection reports on the center after the complaint was filed noted several deficiencies, including absence of background checks on several employees.
NOTE: The American Taekwondo Association has ended its licensure of the center as a result of the support.
UPDATE: KATV is reporting this evening that it has found a previous abuse report filed against an employee of the center in 2006. It's unclear if the incident, recorded in police records, was reported to the child abuse hotline or to the Department of Human Services.