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Fraud in child care


If a string of child deaths and injuries isn’t enough to make Indiana lawmakers strengthen the state’s unconscionably lax child care laws, maybe the alleged theft of millions in tax dollars will.

A federal grand jury last week indicted Donald E. and LaFawn Crumpton on 27 counts, accusing them of fraudulently collecting about $9 million in child care and meal subsidies administered through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration between 2006 and 2010. If convicted on all charges and sentenced consecutively, they would face 540 years in prison.

The Crumptons are no strangers to state officials. A group of legislators that included Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, toured one of the couple’s Little Miracles child care centers as part of their investigation into the need for tighter regulations.

“We toured one of these child care ministries in an Indianapolis home last year,” Holdman said. “There were two adults and 52 children – infants to fourth grade. My feet stuck to the floor; there were mouse feces everywhere.”

Indiana’s antiquated child care regulations have provided the cover for both the unacceptable level of oversight and alleged fraud. While some faith-based organizations have sought voluntary certification and higher standards, child care ministries are subject only to basic fire and sanitation regulations. Unlike licensed child care centers, they have no enrollment cap except for fire-code limits. They aren’t required to meet a child/caregiver ratio, to provide staff training in first aid/CPR or child abuse and neglect, to monitor dispensing of medication or to meet other common-sense standards.

The registered ministry classification isn’t reserved for churches; any provider can proclaim itself a ministry. Little Miracles operated at least 10 sites in Indianapolis, according to the Indianapolis Star, including three located near one another on East 46th Street. In a case unrelated to the recent indictments, a former worker at one of the unlicensed sites was charged with a felony count of neglect for allegedly tying a 7-year-old by the wrists and ankles with rope or yarn.

Holdman has sought to make the health and safety standards of registered ministries equal to those required of licensed centers. A bill he offered in 2011 would have set standards for criminal history checks, drug testing, caregiver education and supervision, immunizations, and fire and hazardous materials safety. But his efforts are routinely attacked by Eric Miller, who marshals the influence of his right-wing Advance America lobby group to protest the changes under a misappropriated banner of religious freedom.

But freedom of religion should not include the right to defraud taxpayers, and it certainly should not carry the right to neglect or endanger children.

Child care is big business in Indiana. Through the end of July, taxpayers paid out more than $131 million in child care subsidies to licensed centers, homes and faith-based ministries. More than 500 registered ministries are authorized to accept the funds, which can serve as incentive to accept more children than can be safely accommodated.

It’s shameful that the deaths of children – including the drowning death of 22-month-old Juan Cardenas in a baptismal font last February – didn’t prompt the governor and top legislative leaders to demand immediate changes in the state’s regulation and oversight of child care ministries. Perhaps this unsavory episode involving tax dollars and a blemished record in preventing fraud will be the motivation they need to finally do the right thing.