Better Newspaper Contest

2014 Award Winners

Hoosier State Press Association - The Indiana Publisher - Better Newspaper Contest

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Page 6 of 67

Page 7 Robert King, Alex Campbell and Marisa Kwiatkowski The Indianapolis Star At first, when he heard they were looking for his son, Juan Cardenas laughed. Not because it was funny, but because it was absurd – just that morning he had left his little boy, not yet two years old, at day care. But Juan's girlfriend was on the phone telling him the day care wanted to know if someone had picked up their little Carlos – because they couldn't find him. Juan was sure this was a mix-up, but he called the day care. Bluntly, he asked: "Where is Carlos?" "We're looking for him," the person said. "What do you mean you're looking for him?" Juan replied. His anger rose instantly. "You're not supposed to be looking for him." The worker replied: "We'll call you back." Juan wasn't going to wait for a call. He took off his white coat, left his job as a lab technician and ran to his car. He drove toward the Northwestside church where his son had been in day care the last four months, Praise Fellowship Assembly of God. His thoughts raced ahead of him. Juan feared that Carlos, who was just 22 months old, had somehow wandered out of the day care onto busy Michigan Road. He feared that maybe someone had come in and kidnapped the boy. And he feared the worst – that his boy might be dead. "God, if he is in your hands already," Juan prayed, as he drove, "I hope you didn't let him suffer." Juan had worried about this day care for a while. Previously, he had seen kids wandering the darkened halls of the church with no one in a hurry to chase after them. A week before, he showed up early to get Carlos and found the lights off. The kids weren't asleep, but they were in the dark. Juan had asked an old woman working there about the darkness. "If you want to pay the bill," she said gruffly, "we can turn on the lights." Things were bad enough that Juan had found a new day care for Carlos. The problem was that the new place couldn't take him until Monday; and this was only Wednesday. When he had dropped off Carlos that morning, he didn't think Carlos was in danger. He just knew the boy had only three days until he could go to a better place. A few blocks from the church, Juan was jarred from his thoughts. An ambulance approached, coming from the direction of the church. Its lights flashed. Its sirens blared. And it seemed to exert a magnetic pull on Juan – as if he should follow it. He felt certain Carlos was in there. Juan told himself to go on to the church – that's where he had left his son, that's where he would find him. But when he arrived in front of the church, there were police cars outside. He parked and went in. None of the day care workers came to meet him. There was no pastor waiting for him. Instead, there was a speech therapist. She'd been coming in to work with Carlos the past few months, teaching him to form his words. Now, she had to form the words the boy's father couldn't bear to hear. Carlos was dead. To leave one's child in the care of others and drive away – as Juan had earlier, as thousands of Hoosiers do daily – requires parents to reach a basic threshold of confidence in the caregiver. As Melanie Brizzi, child care administrator for the Family and Social Service Administration's Bureau of Child Care, puts it: "Parents have to believe in their heart that their children are safe." Too often, though, she said parents overestimate the quality of the care their child is getting. Around Indiana, judging day cares isn't an easy task for parents. The choices range from day cares in schools and government buildings to large preschool operations in commercial buildings and small ones in homes. And thousands of families around the state have turned to more than 650 day cares classified as "unlicensed registered ministries" that are exempt from most of the quality standards other day cares must meet. How much different are the rules for ministries? Licensed day cares are limited by how many children they can put in a single room – 35 square feet of usable space per child. An Indianapolis Star investigation found that ministry day cares can cram as many children into a space as they see fit. In at least one case, a ministry day care had more than five times the number of children recommended for the space it had, according to state records. The usable space per child amounted to at most seven square feet – roughly the size of a doormat. Licensed day cares must keep tabs on how many Story of the Year Our Children Our City Day care series • Untold number of Indiana day cares operate largely out of reach of regulators Finalist panel's comments We felt it was a very close call between this package and the entry from The Herald (Jasper). We gave the edge to "Our children, our city" because of its scope and critical importance. Both entries were exceptionally well-crafted. Division judge's comments Hugely important topic. This is the kind of news that read- ers need and want. All pieces were well-written and edited. Quick-read information was a useful addition. Category judge's comments The greatest faith parents give is to the caregivers entrusted to watch their children while they work. This series showcases the tragedy that occurs with providers that work outside the licensed system. It captivates readers through strong watchdog reporting and compelling narra- tive, along with breakouts that help explain various facets of the issues. A complete package. Deaths expose gaps in how Indiana regulates child care operations For complete story, see Click Contests. The Indianapolis Star Division 6

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