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Home > Publications > Quill > Winner: Erin Middlewood & Stephanie Rice, The Columbian


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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Winner: Erin Middlewood & Stephanie Rice, The Columbian

“Child Care Nightmare”

Jim Poyser

Greg Knudtson received a frantic call from his wife, Tomoko: “Emergency, emergency. Jenna quit breathing.”

The Vancouver couple had just entrusted their 11-week-old daughter to the family’s child care provider, Jennifer Florentin, when Tomoko returned to work. Florentin had discovered Jenna wasn’t breathing when she went to wake her after an hourslong nap.

Knudtson, who was doing business in Seattle, rushed to the intensive care unit at a Portland hospital to see his daughter. Tomoko looked at her husband with teary eyes and said, “She’s not coming back.”

Judges said “Erin Middlewood’s and Stephanie Rice’s ‘Child Care Nightmare’ made us spit fire, rattle our throats and simply say ‘thank you’ out loud for the three-day series about Washington State’s lapses in child care oversight.”

The Columbian’s investigation, published in November, found that roughly one in 10 Clark County child care facilities repeatedly violated health and safety regulations with little or no consequence.

Editor Lou Brancaccio said, “It took two years to obtain the necessary compliance records on child care facilities operating in Clark County. … The reports we received eventually totaled thousands of pages filling three boxes.”

Getting those reports was difficult, as both the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Early Learning were in no hurry to deliver the information. It took appeals to the attorney general’s office to keep the process moving.

Reporter Middlewood pointed out that the series “went beyond the usual stories about dangerous day cares to illuminate a bureaucratic culture more invested in keeping child care facilities in business than enforcing health and safety regulations.”

Rice added, “I grew impatient and frustrated with the state employees who dragged their feet on turning over what is public information, but that made it all the more gratifying to get the story published.”

Brancaccio said, “As a result of our series, the governor is pushing to devote more resources to enforcement and regulators began holding some of the worst performing child care facilities accountable. The state Department of Social and Health Services revoked the child care licenses of four providers we investigated.”

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