The California Department of Social Services posted limited information about day care facilities in June. Credit: Vladimir Nenezic/Shutterstock

Families in Alameda and Contra Costa counties now can see detailed state records about their children’s day care facilities online.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has obtained and posted records including official inspections and citations, complaints about the centers and state investigations of those complaints. Last year, CIR began scanning and posting those records about centers located in the Bay Area. We previously made records available for Santa Clara and Napa counties.

While the majority of other states routinely make this information available online, California has failed to do so. That’s left many parents in the dark about the preschools and day care centers that their children attend.

Following our previous reporting, state lawmakers in 2014 passed a bill requiring the California Department of Social Services to post basic information about the day care facilities that it licenses. In June, the department launched its new website, where the public can learn some relevant facts, such as when a facility was last inspected and how many violations it has received over the past five years.

But the state’s new site is limited. It does not include what violations a center has received. That information must be obtained from the day care facility itself or from an obscure government office.

To get a sense of what’s in the actual documents, take a look at this complaint investigation report from Railroad Junction School in Pittsburg. It shows the allegations and the findings of the state investigation:

If violations of state law are found, the report also includes what they were. In this case, the state cited the school for a violation of children’s “personal rights.”

It will take years for California to make this information available to the public online, according to Pat Leary, chief deputy director of the department. She blames the state’s antiquated technology.

We’d sought to get all the records electronically from the department for the whole state but were told it would cost us more than $20,000 and take more than two years for the agency to hand over the files.

A new federal law, signed by President Barack Obama in November, may force the state to be more transparent or risk losing child care subsidies. But Leary said the department is waiting for advice from the federal government on how to implement that law.

In the meantime, in early 2015, the department plans to launch an email service so that parents can sign up to receive a message if anything about their child’s day care center changes on the state’s website. Yet those emails still won’t say what, if any, problems have been identified at the facility.

We’re working to put records for more Bay Area counties online – so stay tuned.

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.

Jennifer LaFleur

Jennifer LaFleur worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September, 2017. Jennifer LaFleur is senior editor for data journalism for Reveal. Previously, she was the director of computer-assisted reporting at ProPublica and has held similar roles at The Dallas Morning News, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors. She has won awards for her coverage of disability, legal and open government issues. LaFleur is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.