TRENTON — The owner of Tiny Tykes, a longtime provider of early child care in Hancock County, says she is in the process of surrendering her license.
Owner Betsey Grant cited “incompetence” on the part of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which licenses child-care providers, in addition to other issues.
“I’m in the process of surrendering my license,” Grant said. “I’m under investigation for a [blister on a toe] and bribery. I really lost my patience with the investigators because they were there for six hours over a blister on a foot.”
Grant said the bribery allegation stems from DHHS alleging that she’s bribing her employees to not to be truthful with the agency.
“I give my staff cash bonuses and we have pool parties — training incentives,” said Grant. “I do a lot of fundraising. I think my haters out there can’t stand my spirit.”
DHHS spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said the agency is investigating a complaint made about the child-care facility on July 16.
“Maine DHHS takes all complaints about child care facilities seriously and our investigation remains ongoing,” Farwell said. “As the investigation continues, we are working with the affected families to assist them in finding alternative child care and to connect eligible parents with financial assistance. Our child care licensing staff are committed to working with child care operators to address and resolve any issues to ensure that children are safe and well cared for. We are also committed to prompt payment to facilities for families who rely on the child care subsidy program.”
Grant has been a child-care provider for 23 years — a career that she says “found her” while her now grown daughter was small. She went from providing care for a few children in her home to now running a daycare facility licensed for 60 children. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state allowed her to enroll up to 78 children until September.
Last weekend, Grant reached out to all of her families to let them know they needed to find alternate arrangements and helped them do so, she said. Most were able to, leaving Grant with a dozen children in her care on Monday.
Grant said this left parents “stressed.”
There are limited child care options to be found in this area, especially for babies, which requires a higher staff-to-child ratio than older children.
The Down East Family YMCA has a waiting list, as do other providers.
The shortage of child-care businesses frustrates the business owner.
The provider said DHHS should be more encouraging to people who want to open child-care businesses and be more willing to work with existing facilities.
Grant said she and her staff are frustrated with DHHS — beyond the investigation into Tiny Tykes.
Grant said as a child-care provider, she and her staff are mandated reporters, which means by law, they must alert authorities when they suspect a child is being abused or neglected.
The business owner said DHHS did nothing on her last report to the agency about a parent using substances.
“It resulted in that child being left overnight in the vehicle,” Grant said. “I had called on that mother three times.”
The 1-year-old survived hours in a cold vehicle last February with temperatures in the teens. Ellsworth police subsequently charged the mother, who had allegedly forgotten the child in the vehicle, with aggravated assault. District Attorney Matt Foster said the court case is still pending.
Grant isn’t sure what the future will be for her business or her decades of experience running a child-care center in light of the DHHS investigation.
“Typically if there’s a major issue, they can close you right down, and they didn’t do that,” she said. Grant thinks that a disgruntled staff member whom she recently fired called in a complaint to the agency.
Grant is also frustrated with the state’s inability to pay her on time for providing care to families who receive state subsidies for child care.
“It’s always been a nightmare,” Grant said. “But when I did daycare at home, it would be a few hundred dollars a month” if the state didn’t pay on time. “But now that I have 33 children on the subsidy program, when they delay my payment six months that’s $26,000.”
“I accept all state-funded families,” she said. “Most daycares won’t, reason being the state won’t pay accurately.”
Tiny Tykes is one of the largest providers of child care in the area after the Down East Family YMCA, which operates multiple facilities.
DHHS renewed Tiny Tykes’ license through February of 2022 after inspecting the facility on Feb. 20, 2021, according to a social media message that Grant posted on March 31.
Grant is passionate about care for children despite never having an intention to go into the field.
“I never changed a diaper before she was born,” Grant said of her adult daughter. Child care “found me. I didn’t find it. I have a B.A. from Thomas [College] in business. I’m just so fortunate I could find a passion and apply business to it, which makes it work.”