On the day temperatures in metro Atlanta reached triple digits, the state agency that oversees daycare facilities announced Friday it would be more aggressive in enforcing its regulations — a move that it hopes will prevent another child from being left closed up in a hot vehicle.
Almost a year ago to the day, a 2-year-old girl that had been left in a van outside a Jonesboro daycare died.
On Wednesday, a Clayton County grand jury indicted the owner of that Jonesboro daycare where Jazmin Green died in a hot Chevy Astro van parked outside Marlo's Magnificent Early Learning Center.
Friday, the Georgia Department of Early Learning and Care, also known as Bright From the Start, put in new policies that mandated better record keeping to prevent leaving a child in a vehicle..
That was not enough, said Commissioner Bobby Cagle.
In the past year, 21 children have been left in vans or buses for 10 minutes to five hours. Cagle said four daycare centers had been closed in the past year because children were forgotten in vans or buses or because records were not kept.
On Friday, all of the 6,300 daycare facilities in Georgia were notified that they could be fined the maximum allowed $499 the first time state inspectors find records are not kept and checks are not made that Bright From the Start demands.
"We have tried a measured approach in working with providers ... but it is not working," Cagle said."Because the problems persist and close calls have happened, we want to let everyone know we will not tolerate this."
Cagle said the agency also decided to ratchet up its efforts now because of predictions that temperatures will reach 100 degrees or higher in the next few days.
Patrick O'Neal with the state Department of Public Health said as temperatures rise quickly inside a closed vehicle, an infant's body temperature goes up five times faster than an adult's.
"We've had children, infants to have heat stroke when the temperature was as low as 50 degrees," O'Neal said. "This is a problem that stays with us most of the year."
Bright From the Start requires daycare providers to have a list of each child's name that is checked as they are taken out of a van or bus. The times of arrivals and departures for every trip must be noted and initialed. Also, there must be two separate inspections of the van or bus, including looking under the seats.
Until now, facilities violating paperwork requirements could be cited, required to develop a correction plan or subjected to additional training. But there was no fine.
If a child is left behind, the agency's options are a $499 fine, up from $299, restrictions on transportation of children, revoking licenses or closing facilities on an emergency bases.
"We are for quality [care] and we do support DECL," said Frank Bennett who owns Kids Are Kids on Johnson Ferry Road in Marietta. "We think people need to be held accountable and need to meet the standard when it comes to children's safety."
Bennett said adjusting to the rule changes last year was no trouble but still "a little more cumbersome. But again, when it comes to children's safety, it's something we're supportive of," he said.
Jasmin had been in the van more than two hours she and seven other children returned from Chuck E. Cheese when she was missed, according to police accounts. Jasmin was found strapped in a car seat in the most rear seat on the driver's side.
She died later at the hospital.
Marlo Maria Fannings and her daughter, Quantabia Shantell Hopkins, both now free on bond, are charged with murder,contributing to the deprivation of a child and reckless conduct. Hopkins, now 24, also is charged a second count of reckless conduct for allegedly falsifying state-required paperwork.