MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s been nearly ten months since an illegal day care center was raided by the state and local investigators in Morristown. The operator of the center was never charged since no child was harmed, but parents lobbied for change.
Now change has been made but it will not impact the outcome of last year’s raid, however, lawmakers say it will protect children in the future. Under present law, to charge someone with neglect at a day care center, there has to be proof of a child’s physical abuse. This law has now been revised and the added amendments address a child’s emotional and mental health and unlicensed operators.
Last week, members of Tennessee’s house and senate approved new amendments to Tennessee’s day care regulations. Direct reference was made to the Morristown day care center where the Department of Children’s Services, Investigators, and sheriff’s deputies found 36 children in an unlicensed day care center.
“There is a lot of horrible, horrible video and audio that came out of this. Essentially this unlicensed facility was warehousing children in the basement. It was literally a garage,” said Rick Eldridge, State Representative. “Because there is no provision other than for physical abuse in our current law, this lady could not be charged with anything.”
The bill was passed unanimously and its amendments add teeth to the protection of children in day centers. It says that if there are more than four children in an unlicensed facility, you can face a felony offense, there is a fine and there could possibly be jail time.
“This bill will change that it will create adverse effects on the emotional and mental health and welfare of the child being also considered,” said Eldridge.
“I’m very pleased. It is great to know they took it so seriously when we took it to them,” said Brandi Gilliam, a Morristown mother.
Gilliam was in the state capital last week when the bills were passed. For months, she lobbied her local legislator, Eldridge, for change. Gilliam was one of several moms who spoke with WATE in February, each one had their children inside the day care center and said they were never allowed downstairs.
Many parents were outraged when a video of conditions was released in January 2022. Several moms encouraged the state to adopt tougher regulations for overcrowded, in-home day care centers.
The revised law takes effect on July 1, 2022. In the meantime, the investigation by the department of children’s services continues.
Parents whose children were at the center last July, tell us they’re currently being interviewed by DHS. Some of the moms said, they’ve been asked questions about supervision at the Morristown center, and what kind of emotional distress their kids may have experienced. To date, the center is operating under the law and there have been no further violations.