State flagged Spartan Stores YMCA child care before closure

Kent County

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A YMCA child care center in Wyoming is shutting down after state officials recommended its license be revoked following repeated violations.

In one case, state regulators said they found a day care worker had sexually abused a child.

The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids announced Tuesday it will close its infant-to-preschool child care program at its Spartan Stores YMCA on March 29 after “a comprehensive review of the child care program in partnership with state licensing officials.”

But Target 8 learned the state previously recommended the center’s license be revoked. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs made the recommendation in January after flagging “repeated violations of inappropriate supervision” during multiple inspections.

In November, LARA recommended the center be placed on a second provisional license because of violations. The child care facility was already on a first provisional license, which is a probationary period that requires increased monitoring by state regulators.

24 Hour News 8 has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the state for reports detailing the most recent allegations.

The center has had consistent problems over the last two years. A Target 8 review of state reports shows at least eight violations in that time.

The most concerning allegation came after a special investigation in December 2017 found a male worker had sexually abused a child. It should be noted the state has a lower burden a proof to substantiate claims than criminal prosecutors.

The state said the worker “inappropriately cuddled, held, and kissed the boys in his care, and brought toys from home for certain boys.” It also said the worker “exposed his buttocks in the PreK classroom without attempting to adjust his pants.”

The state determined the worker was “not suitable to meet the needs of children.”

A spokesman for the YMCA told Target 8 that “Upon notification of an investigation, the employee was immediately suspended and subsequently resigned.” In a statement, the YMCA declined to provide additional details about the case, citing the sensitive nature of the situation and the involvement of a minor.

The Wyoming Police Department investigated the employee, but the police report shows the prosecutor “denied charges due to the fact that (the boy) would have had a difficult time testifying and cross examined due to (his) age.”

The alleged abuse was apparently not witnessed by anyone else, Target 8 found.

Target 8 is not naming the worker because he was never charged criminally.

During the same investigation, LARA issued violations saying the program director did not provide appropriate supervision, and there was an improper ratio of caregivers to children during nap time. 

The state also said the program director was aware of concerns regarding the male worker accused of abuse, but allowed him to stay with children at nap time. 

At the end of its investigation into the worker, LARA recommended the center’s license be revoked.

Records show the center reached a settlement in July 2018 that enabled it to remain open. 

The YMCA said it conducted a “comprehensive review of our child care services and related programs across the organization” after the incident. It thanked the state for help with its improvements.

However, in another investigation opened a month later, state officials said appropriate supervision had not been provided to children in the preschool classroom. The state said the center recognized a need for more supervision over a specific child who “hits, bites and hurts children,” but that a plan to address concerns was not implemented, leading to more injuries of other children.

The state also determined then that the Spartan Stores YMCA did not have all individuals fingerprinted prior to working in its child care classrooms.

The state ordered the facility to write up a corrective action plan in September, but allowed the center to remain on its first provisional license.

An earlier investigation in June 2017 found a caregiver used a prohibited form of discipline by spanking a child. She was fired as a result.

The state also found then that Spartan Stores YMCA has a plan for notifying parents of accidents, illnesses and, injuries, however “there is no policy in place for reporting incidents to parents.”

The YMCA sent a news release regarding the closure, admitting they have “had difficulty recruiting and training enough staff to meet the growing demand, while ensuring a high quality, safe and supportive program.” But the release never mentions state violations.

“At the Y, we take our commitment to provide a safe and attentive environment for the children in our care very seriously,” Chief Operating Officer Shannon Matthews said in a release to Target 8. “While the program is closed, we will provide additional professional development training to current Y employees, actively recruit new staff to address chronic staffing shortages across the association, and take additional steps to ensure we are able to maintain a safe, supportive and caring environment for all children enrolled in our care.”

The YMCA said it intends to reopen the program in the future, if it can fix the problems.

“We know the impact this decision has on our families and staff and we are committed to working with them to ensure as smooth a transition as possible,” Matthews said. “We have already offered continued employment to all child care staff at that location.”

A parent who has two children attending the day care and wished to be identified only as Josh said he was disappointed and concerned.

“We’re kind of in the same boat, but now we kind of have to figure out child care going forward,” he said, “It’s kind of a tough spot to be in right now.”

Parents who talked to 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday said they are shocked because they believed the staff was top-notch. Josh said he believes the current staff feels bad about what happened.

“They understand that they’ve really put a lot of us parents in a really tough situation now but even more so you can tell a lot of them are pretty unnerved by maybe some of the care that was given,” he said.

The YMCA said the closure does not affect child care programs at any other location.

Target 8 requested an interview with YMCA officials, but was told early Tuesday no one was available. Target 8 went to the center seeking comment, but the current director at the facility said she’d just been hired in November and refused to answer any questions.

A representative of SpartanNash reached out to 24 Hour News 8 to say that “Spartan Stores was the naming sponsor and leading underwriter of the YMCA when it was built over 12 years ago. (The) company – now known as SpartanNash – has no connection to the Child Development Center, in name, funding or operations.”

—24 Hour News 8’s Barton Deiters contributed to this report.

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