After Another Tragic Local Childcare Death, How Do We Know Who’s Safe and Who Isn’t?

by Terry Bryant

In the wake of the death of young Raymond Pryer Jr. in Houston after daycare employees left him in a van for more than three-and-a-half hours in 113+ degree Houston summer heat, questions about the daycare’s safety procedures have rightfully been called into question. And many maintain this tragedy was preventable.

Raymond was sleeping as he and his preschool companions and chaperones returned to North Harris County’s Discovering Me Academy from an outing to a local park.

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, deputies believe the sleeping boy might have been less noticeable to the two employees as they herded 28 other children off the bus. Left forgotten inside the rapidly heating vehicle, Raymond was not discovered until his father came to pick him up around 6:30 p.m., according to Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.

Daycare staff, responding sheriff’s deputies, and paramedics all tried to resuscitate the boy. He was rushed to Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. But all attempts to revive little Raymond were unsuccessful. Both the bus driver and one chaperone could face criminal charges, even though that remains to be determined by Houston Police Department detectives, and prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Discovering Me Academy has faced no administrative penalties or other sanctions in the past five years, according to Texas Health and Human Services (THHS) records. But according to the New York Times, it was cited for several violations three years ago (2015). At least one of its vans had not been equipped with an electronic child safety alarm – designed to alert a vehicle’s driver if a child has been left in a vehicle. It is not yet known whether such an alarm was present in the vehicle where Raymond was found.

Discovering Me was also written up that year because a caregiver overseeing children during nap time didn’t have an exact count of the number of sleeping children. Moreover, in one case during the 2015 inspection, a caregiver was overseeing more children than was permitted by the THHS-required caregiver-to-child ratio.

No Universal Childcare Evaluations Database

With the significant rise in households where both parents work full-time, finding a childcare provider is one of the most difficult decision which parents must face. THHS does have a working, searchable database of its licensed childcare or homecare centers, and another database which lists centers which have had their licenses revoked or suspended.  But Texas has no rating system for all childcare facilities; the HHS database monitors only childcare programs that accept state-funded subsidies.

There is a new, privately owned rating system. Texas Rising Star is a membership-driven organization which has guidelines for its members, the most prominent being a clean HHS record for at least a year or, in some cases, longer.  Currently, only about one in ten daycare providers are listed in Rising Star. That leaves about 90% of the remainder with limited – if any – information for parents to study as they decide whether a childcare or homecare center is safe for their children, and that information is found in past rudimentary THHS inspection results.

Negligent childcare should never be tolerated. If you believe a childcare facility’s practices led to your child’s injury, contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law to learn more about your legal options.