SEATTLE -- One of the biggest social service programs in the state of Washington helps income-qualifying parents pay for daycare.
It’s a $300 million program called Working Connections.
A KING 5 Investigation reveals that some small, home-based daycares are making big money off the taxpayer-funded program while providing questionable care to the kids they serve.
Anne Ladale Moore runs her daycare out of her duplex-style home in Marysville.
"I literally have kids getting dropped off at 5:30 in the morning and I have kids leave at 1:30 in the morning and that's non-stop. Go, go, go," said Moore.
She calls the business “All Hours Childcare.” That’s exactly what it is. Moore’s daycare is caring for children every hour of the day, every day of the week.
"I'm used to going on four hours of sleep," said Moore.
Almost all of Moore’s clients are enrolled in the Working Connection program. And that’s propelled her to the top of the list of home daycare subsidy earners in Washington state.
$232,000 paid to home daycare in one year
Records obtained by the KING 5 Investigators show the state paid Anne Ladale Moore $232,000 in subsidy payments in one year alone.
She is one of more than 150 home daycare owners that were paid $75,000 or more in yearly subsidy payments. That's in addition to co-pays and private-pay clients.
Moore disputes that her business is purely about making money.
“My families are happy here,” she said.
The state does limit the number of children providers can watch at any given time. Beyond that, they are free to log as many hours as they like, seven days a week.
"And that is permissible under state law,” said Amy Blondin of the Department of Early Learning. “They are allowed to offer 24-hour care. Now our job is to go in regularly and monitor and make sure they are offering safe and healthy care."
The Department of Early Learning, which licenses and inspects daycares, says the rules encourage off-hours daycare, which many working parents need.
Blondin also points out the big earners may be paying licensed assistants to meet staffing levels.
Long hours too much?
But Carol Wilson wonders about the wisdom of allowing home daycares to operate non-stop. She runs a daycare herself out of her Olympia home. She is also the president of the Washington State Family Childcare Association, an organization that represents home daycare operators.
"I didn't realize there were people who made that much money," said Wilson. "I'm concerned about burnout. That's a lot of people and children coming into your house every day. I'm concerned that's just going to wear you down, you would think."
Some top earners have problems
The KING 5 Investigators found what could be evidence of that in public records.
Of the top 20 subsidy earners in 2009, more than a third have a higher than average number of complaints or they're on the state's non-referral list which is a type of probation which bars them from accepting new kids. The non-referral list generally means that inspectors have detected possible health or safety violations and are working with the daycare provider to get back on track.
A home daycare in Des Moines, south of Seattle, is a top earner with serious troubles. The state paid it $130,000 subsidy dollars in 2009, the same year police with a warrant broke down the door and found marijuana inside. Despite that, the owner still has her daycare license.
Regulators will only say they've been closely monitoring the daycare.
"If someone has their license, it's because we think they can meet the minimum requirements," said Blondin.
Yet three separate complaints about the daycare in the 1600 block of S. 245th Place came from law enforcement officers and a zoning official complaining about piles of trash.
There have been cracks in Moore's non-stop daycare program as well. While 75 percent of daycares have no valid complaints on their state licensing records, Moore has four.
"I've never had anything major,” said Moore. “I've never had a neglect situation. I've never had an issue where children were in danger."
One of the complaints investigators deemed valid came from Moore’s former client Jennifer Encinias. She says there were often no adults at Moore’s home when she dropped her kids off for weekend care. The person in charge was a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of Moore’s assistant.
“I thought it was legal,” said Encinias. “I didn’t realize they had to be 18 years or older. I’m very angry about it."
Moore disputes anyone who suggests the complaints are evidence she can’t handle the load of her non-stop daycare. "I wouldn't know how to do it any other way, honestly," said Moore.
UPDATE: After our interview with Moore last week, licensors did something unexpected. They shut her daycare down temporarily, suspending her license. The state won't say why while it conducts an investigation. An official will only say that it's not connected to issues raised in our story.
MORE: Click here for an online tool that helps parents do their own homework on any licensed daycare provider in the state. The state website helps you find childcare and check for any complaints against a specific provider.