State inspection reports for a Wasilla day care center where a toddler was fatally injured Sept. 6 show the center had been largely found to be in compliance with state regulations since it was licensed in 2008, but with occasional troubling gaps.
The most serious violation in Illuminations Child Care and Educational Center's records was connected to an incident in June of 2011. Witnesses complained that Illuminations caregivers lost track of a toddler who had gotten stuck in a muddy area near a lake and had to be retrieved by bystanders.
An inspector following up on the claims found that caregivers had allowed the child, who was found in mud less than five feet from the water's edge, to wander away.
The state ruled that Illuminations had violated three regulations: failing to ensure children receive appropriate supervision, failing to know the whereabouts of a child and failure to protect a child from exposure to possible dangers.
The center was fined $500.
Illuminations owner Brenda Fuller did not return Daily News phone calls.
Illuminations, on South Knik-Goose Bay Road, is closed now while the state looks into the death of 19-month-old Faith Phillips, said Ree Sailors, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services deputy commissioner. The child was found unconscious in an outdoor yard at Illuminations on Sept. 6 and was taken off life support on Sept. 9 after doctors confirmed brain death.
Wasilla Police Department detectives have said it appeared the girl got her head caught in the window of a piece of playground equipment and succumbed to what experts call "positional asphyxia," which can render a person unconscious in seconds.
The Daily News, through a public records request, obtained inspection reports dating back to 2008, when Illuminations was first licensed by the state. They include both routine announced and unannounced visits by a DHSS inspector and trips made to follow up on specific allegations of unsafe or unsanitary conditions.
Sailors said she did not know how many of the roughly 580 child care centers in the state were fined for violations in 2011. "Corrective action reports," where the facility outlines a plan to address problems, are more common, Sailors said.
In some inspection reports, Illuminations was praised for a tidy environment and positive interactions between children and their caregivers,
In September of 2011, the center was reprimanded but not fined for failing to keep proper immunization records or perform background checks on some caregivers.
On other visits, an inspector looked at allegations that a caregiver was smoking marijuana on breaks and that the facility was dirty. The state found both claims to be unsubstantiated.
In the latest report, from May 2012, the inspector described a "clean, well-organized" facility and children participating in quiet time.
"The outside premises of the facility also appeared well kept," the report says.
Sailors said the inspector would have been looking for things like whether the playground equipment had rounded corners, included sharp objects and featured padding.
The files do not include two recent records still sealed by DHSS because investigations are ongoing: One from August of 2012, when DHSS officials say they started an investigation based on a complaint they will not detail, and one following up on the death of Faith Phillips.
Contact Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News