California parents have little information about the state of day care facilities and preschools. That’s because the state has failed to make inspection information available online. Armed with scanners, laptops and staple removers, reporters from The Center for Investigative Reporting and NBC Bay Area decided to gather the information ourselves.

Our goal: to put online child care inspection and complaint records for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties.

There are roughly 11,000 day care facilities and preschools in the region. We started with a small county, Napa, to test the process. Through a public records request, CIR and NBC Bay Area got access to thousands of paper files for the county. We’ve scanned them and plan to sort and publish the most relevant documents online, including any findings from inspection reports and complaint files.

But that is just one county. We’d like help on the other eight. So CIR and NBC Bay Area are launching a new project to collect the rest of the records with the help of community volunteers.

First, a little background: As we previously reported, the majority of states make public reports about child care facilities available online. California does not, though the state’s Department of Social Services has been under pressure to do so from the state auditor since 2006. CIR attempted to obtain these files electronically, but we were told it would cost more than $20,000 and take more than two years to extract the data from the state’s database.

After our initial reporting about the access to these records, the director of the Department of Social Services said the agency would post online limited information from the last three years. That would happen sometime in the next few months, officials said. But that will still leave many parents without any recent information. In California, regulators are required to inspect day care operations every five years. If the state posts three years of data, that will leave plenty of gaps. Thousands of licensed facilities could escape scrutiny under this scenario.

To force the state to take action, legislators have sponsored AB 2621, which would ensure that more extensive records are available. It would include records that detail license revocations in the works.

“Here is a very inexpensive tool for parents that we desperately need,” said Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield. “Maybe we can save lives. Maybe we can keep parents from having really unfortunate experiences with their children.”

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, thinks Californians have waited too long for this information.

“This department needs to deliver now on a promise that they made to all of us a long time ago,” she said. “They’ve had seven years to fix it. And so this legislation, if signed, would guarantee that it gets fixed.”

While the bill has bipartisan supporters, that’s no guarantee that it will make it through the legislative process and be signed by the governor.

So here is how you can help now: In honor of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to raise awareness about the importance of government transparency, we’re seeking community volunteers who are willing to go into government offices and scan files with us. We’re not going to send you off alone on a records goose chase. Instead, volunteers would accompany us and get training on how to copy the files. Once we have the files, we can then share the information with Bay Area parents.  

If you want to help us make these important records available, please fill out the form below:


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Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.