Arroyo Grande child-care center quickly closes, leaving parents scrambling

Business comes under state investigation for alleged violations

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 28, 2013 

A day care center in Arroyo Grande that unexpectedly closed its doors last weekend, leaving some stunned parents wondering what happened, had received a notice the previous day that the state Department of Social Services intended to revoke its license following numerous alleged violations of health and safety requirements.

But the owners of Kid’s Club said the sudden closure was prompted in part by increased costs, including a hefty payroll tax increase, that has left them struggling financially and put them behind in their rent.

Nathan Belch, who co-owns the center at 1488 E. Grand Ave. with his wife, Linda, said they were concerned about having enough money to pay their employees if they continued to operate while fighting the state allegations. They posted signs on the center’s door on Saturday morning stating they were shuttering the operation.

An accusation served to Kid’s Club on March 22 alleges that on specific dates the center did not have enough qualified staff available, didn’t have at least one staff member trained in CPR, didn’t have at least one qualified teacher in the school-age program and didn’t obtain a criminal record clearance for one of its employees.

Other problems included not obtaining parents’ permission to take children on a field trip; failing to maintain an adequate supply of soap and toilet paper; and failing to repair or replace a damaged trampoline net, according to the accusation signed by Jeffrey Hiratsuka, deputy director of the state’s Community Care Licensing Division.

Nathan Belch disputed the allegations and noted that many were minor or inaccurately reported. For example, on Jan. 18, the accusation states that one staff member was left to care for 18 children. But, Belch said, the second staff member had stepped into the lobby area to talk to a parent.

In another incident involving the low supply of toilet paper on March 22, 2012, Belch said he’d just returned from Costco with more toilet paper, but that a state licensing inspector wouldn’t let him bring in the items.

All staff members are required to have CPR training, he added.

In an emailed statement, Linda Belch noted the center had received eight citations in three years of operation, mostly for minor problems.

“The letter from licensing was completely unexpected,” she wrote. “However, I made the best decision I felt I could given the circumstances I was working with. I realize how many parents are now without care, and for that I am truly sorry.”

A payroll tax holiday expired in January, and the Belches saw their payroll costs increase by about $5,000 a month, making it more difficult for them to meet their expenses.

The Belches were initially licensed to operate a day care center on March 25, 2010. Two licenses were issued at the same location for up to 30 children each for different ages ranging from 2 to 12 years old.

The allegations came as a result of regular or unannounced visits by licensing program analysts or in response to a complaint, said Oscar Ramirez, a spokesman for the state Social Services Department.

He said the state did not close the facility, but was moving to revoke its license. The Belches have 20 calendar days from the date they received the notice to respond. If they choose not to, their license will be revoked, Ramirez said.

The Belches are still deciding whether to appeal.

Licenses do not expire; however, he said, the Belches would have to pay an annual fee on March 25 of $220 for each of their two licenses to continue operating.

“They do have a right to appeal,” he said. “They could have stayed open and provided services during this time frame and appealed to an administrative law judge.”

They did not give the state a required 30-day notice that they planned to close, Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, Nathan Belch said the couple reached out to as many parents as possible to alert them of the closure. Parents can go to the Kid’s Club Facebook page to figure how to retrieve some of their children’s items (www.facebook.com/CentralCoastKidsClub).

“Financially, we’re completely wiped out,” he said. “I know there are some families that have (purchased) hours and we still owe some small amounts of money, but I don’t know at this time what we’re going to do about that.”

He said they’ll try to sell off some of the center’s inventory to raise money. “I understand with these times too how much it matters, and we do care as well, so I feel horrible about it.”

Linda Belch added: “We just want to extend our heartfelt apologies to the parents who depended on us. I feel personally awful that we failed. My staff was amazing, the children we cared for were wonderful, and I will miss seeing them grow.”

This past week, some parents posted messages on social media sites and called each other to try to find out what happened.

Arroyo Grande resident Jennifer Colman has used the center since 2010, occasionally dropping her two children off so she and her husband could go to dinner. She just purchased a group of “time blocks” for $100.

Colman said she didn’t have any complaints about the center: The staff was nice, the location was convenient and her children enjoyed going there.

“I definitely want my money back because we paid for services we’re not going to get,” she added. “I’m a little frustrated that we didn’t get more notice. It’s really hard to find suitable child care with such short notice.”

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