One state inspector does her
best to ensure day cares do not go


How one state inspector
brings her experience and
encouragement to the job

Photo by Jay Janner

Austin American-Statesman | Dec. 6 2018

Earlier this year, Beth Person — a child care licensing inspector for the Health and Human Services Commission — strolled around the toddler room at Marimont Montessori Preschool, navigating around the children as they painted, flipped through laminated fruit cards and played with cups of water.

“It’s empty!” a little boy exclaimed, holding a cup in his outstretched arms.

“It’s empty?” Person said. “Do you need more?”

The room buzzed as Person went about her work, looking for safety violations at the Pflugerville child care center. She opened cabinets and checked under sinks, looking to see if there were chemicals or poisons within reach of curious children. She searched for purses that little hands could easily grab. She scanned for sharp objects or hot items that could cause cuts or burns.

Beth Person, a licensing inspector with Texas Health and Human Services, inspects the playground at Marimont Montessori Preschool in Pflugerville. | American-Statesman | Jay Janner
The American-Statesman visited with Person as part of the newspaper’s yearlong investigation into problems at Texas child care facilities. The newspaper read thousands of documents, researched dozens of day care safety records, analyzed existing data and built its own database to find patterns and trends.

What the Statesman found was that dangerous conditions exist inside many Texas day care facilities, leaving hundreds of children in need of medical care as well as nearly 90 children dead as a result of abuse or neglect since 2007. In this series, the newspaper explores problems such as day care sexual abuse, deaths, injuries, illegal operations and state oversight. The newspaper also presents potential solutions to some of those problems.

Person walked around the building, where dozens of children were in various stages of playing, eating, reading or talking. She checked the bathrooms for hazards, noted how caregivers talked to children, ensured that grumpy children were being redirected kindly. She stepped into the playground to make sure there were no nails or screws sticking out of the play sets and that loose fill on the play yards was deep enough to cushion a fall.

Rachel Brace, director of Marimont Montessori in Pflugerville, says it takes a lot of organization to keep up with all the state regulations. She uses an Excel spreadsheet to keep on top of such things as when children are due for required vaccines, she said, and the school always has an employee checking to make sure the school is meeting state regulations.

At the end of the inspection, Person delivered the news to Brace: no violations. But Person, who used to work in child care herself, knows it’s not easy to get those results.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “They have to know the standards. It’s a huge book, but they were put there for a reason: to protect children.”