HOUSTON - The entire world was horrified to see four lives claimed by a fire at a Houston day care owned by Jessica Tata last year.
More than a year later, Tata is still in jail awaiting trial.
This case changed the way Houston inspects the safety of day cares. Last year, the city passed an ordinance requiring the Houston Fire Department to conduct annual safety checks at all licensed day cares.
The state of Texas also requires all day care operators to undergo criminal background checks before working with kids. In Texas, violent crimes prohibit someone from working in or operating a day care.
However, the state does allow day care workers and operators to have some lesser crimes on their record. Tata had a juvenile record for arson.
So, how does a parent choose the safest place for their child?
"I drove by before hours, after hours, made an unannounced visit. You have to see how receptive they are to that," said mother of three Pam Yokley.
Yokley said those unannounced visits helped her avoid choosing another day care with an otherwise good record.
"I went in and they looked terrible. They had paint chips and there was other stuff and people seemed indifferent and uncaring to the children," said Yokley.
Yokley also spoke with several teachers and parents to find out which day cares had the best reputation. Yokley said word-of-mouth can go a long toward helping choose a day care.
"People know who's good and who's bad," said Yokley.
Linda Gonzales has been a day care operator in Houston for 29 years and urges parents to also regularly talk with the people who will be caring for your child.
"You interact with the owners, or with the directors, or you interact with the staff," said Gonzales. "That has a lot to do with it, see what kind of person they are."
Gonzales said also to watch your child for signs of trouble, like whether the child seems apprehensive when being taken to or picked up from a day care facility.
"A lot of times, go with your gut feelings," said Gonzales. "If you feel something's not right, ask questions."
Gonzales also said make sure to ask a day care facility to show you its current permits from the state, recent inspection reports, and affidavits showing all employees have been through a mandated criminal background check.
Parents can also search the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service's website to find a facility's recent inspection reports and history of any disciplinary action taken.
Parents can also search another database to find persons who have abused or neglected children.
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