How much do you know about the person or day care that watches your children? The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said there are hundreds operating with absolutely no oversight. And child care licensing officials have added 40 new investigators across the state to find them.
Local 2 consumer expert Amy Davis spent a day with two of those investigators to show you what you need to know about your child's day care.
From Cypress to Magnolia to Houston's southwest-side, childcare licensing investigators spent the day chasing down leads.
Craigslist and Facebook ads led them to a Magnolia home. The homeowner had posted days earlier advertising "in-home child care," asking interested parents to private message her. But when investigators inquired, they discovered the owner, Rosa Amaya, wasn't authorized to watch children.
Amaya let the investigators inside her home. There were seven kids inside; four belonged to Amaya, another was related and there were two she was paid to watch.
According to state law, Amaya must be what's called listed. It's the lowest level of state regulation and it's required of anyone who is paid to watch even one unrelated child on a regular basis.
In a home that's only listed, there are no routine inspections, or checks for safety hazards, but investigators do a criminal background check on every employee and adult in the home.
Amaya filled out of the state application to become listed while investigators were at her home. Maintaining the status will cost her $20 every year.
"I just want to take care of kids in my home because it's something I like to do -- help parents that can't afford daycare," Amaya explained to Davis.
"Once she's gone through, her name will come up as a provider who does provide care in a listing setting," said CCL supervisor Chioma Johnson.
Child Care Licensing employees said many caregivers don't realize they need to be on the state's radar.
"(They'll say,) 'Oh, I know, I just didn't get to it,'" said Christina Harvey, the district director of Child Care Licensing for TDFPS. "Or 'Oh, I didn't know, I'm just babysitting,' or, 'I just keep kids for the summer.'"
In the last legislature, Texas lawmakers approved extra funding for childcare licensing investigators to proactively seek out illegal operations. It's how TDFPS said they would rather discover them, because in four separate cases just since May, they learned of illegal operations only after a child had died.
In July, a 2-year-old girl died when her caregiver said she fell into a tub of scalding hot water. The case is still under investigation, but childcare workers said they wonder if more training for her caregiver could have saved her life.
"We're always looking to find a way to help people become regulated," said Harvey. "That gets them training opportunities. That gets them with other providers that can also work with."
The help is not always wanted. Investigators drove to a home in Cypress after the homeowner posted a message on Facebook saying she cares for kids 8 weeks old to 4 years old. The woman was skeptical when investigators knocked on her door.
"Are you caring for any children other than your own today?" Johnson asked.
"Uh no, why is that? Who reported me?" the woman asked.
She refused to let them inside without first calling deputies. The homeowner didn't want Local 2 cameras inside, but she did eventually give investigators a tour and agreed to fill out of the paperwork to become registered. That is the next level oversight. A home that is registered can have up to 12 unrelated children at a time. Registered homes are inspected every two years.
"She has a very nice set-up of childcare," said Johnson, after touring the home. "She has a schedule for the kids, so hopefully we're able to get her registered and get her on the right track."
The third and highest level of oversight with the state are licensed facilities. These include day cares and 24 hour residential care facilities.
If your child's caregiver is not listed on the Department of Family and Protective Services website, it means they are not authorized to care for children. If your child's day care is registered, the most recent inspection must be posted in a place where you can see it.