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Florida Governor Orders Crackdown on Abuse in Day-Care Centers

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Following two recent allegations of sexual abuse of children at day-care centers in his state, Gov. Robert Graham of Florida has ordered the State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services to crack down on unlicensed child-care centers.

He has also asked the agency to submit recommendations on how to assure quality in day-care facilities for possible consideration by a special session of the legislature in November.

Two Miami-area day-care centers, one licensed by the state and one unlicensed, are under investigation for alleged incidents of child sexual abuse, according to Jill Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Governor.

Because of that action and a "dramatic increase in our incidence of child-abuse reports," according to Ms. Chamberlain, the Governor last month directed the health department, which licenses day-care facilities, to identify and close unlicensed facilities.

Unlicensed Centers

"He directed the department to immediately review all reports of abuse and negect at day-care centers in Florida during the past year to determine if they were appropriately handled," Ms. Chamberlain said. ''[And] he ordered the department to immediately identify and take action against child-care pro-viders who are operating without a license.''

Although the department has the authority to close unlicensed facilities, she said, the Governor's order represents "a more aggressive effort to do that through such procedures as" cross-checking telephone-directory and newspaper advertisements for centers with local occupational-license files to determine if those centers that have business licenses have also been licensed by the health department.

Expansion of Hotline

In addition, the Governor ordered the department to expand the capabilities of its 24-hour toll-free child-abuse hotline and make sure that all complaints are followed through within 24 hours. Additional staff members are being hired for the hotline, she said.

Governor Graham asked the health department to submit to him a list of recommendations for further action by Oct. 1, Ms. Chamberlain said. At that time, the Governor is expected to consider calling a special session of the legislature to take up such recommendations as raising standards for day-care-center licensing and providing additional resources to the department to adequately investigate and follow through on reports of sexual abuse.

Florida law requires that day3care facilities--in which six or more children are cared for by a paid adult--must be licensed, according to Anne Nelson, a spokesman for the health department. There are 3,420 licensed day-care centers in the state, she said.

Family day-care facilities--in which two to five unrelated children are cared for--are subject to county laws, which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most counties, the children, youth, and families program of the state health department licenses the centers, she said. There are 1,500 licensed family day-care homes in the state. "Nobody even has a guess" as to the number of unlicensed centers, Ms. Nelson said.

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