I-Team: State Turns Blind Eye to Illegal, Unlicensed Day Cares
I-Team investigation Video by tmj4.comvideo
Stacey Schultz and Marc Averitt have so many questions about the place where their five-month-old son died.
With both of them working, Averitt and Schultz needed someone to look after their little boy,Landon.
They chose an at-home day care run out of a West Bend house by a woman they thought they could trust.
"She was very inviting, you know, " said Schultz. "She helped me with the bags and I felt very comfortable."
On a late February day, Schultz noticed something unusual -- a string of missed calls and a voicemail from the day care left on her phone.
When she heard the message, Schwartz assumed the worst.
"She was crying," Schwartz said. "She said something's wrong with Landon, you need to get here now."
Schultz and Averitt arrived at the day care moments apart to hear the same terrible news.
Landon died after being put down for a nap.
A source familiar with the investigation said Landon likely suffocated after he was put down for a nap with multiple adult size blankets.
That woman who put Landon down for that nap was Leah Shulka, owner of an unlicensed and illegal day care.
As an I-Team investigation discovered, the state of Wisconsin does very little to stop illegal day cares until after a problem or a tragedy strikes.
In Wisconsin, it's actually more difficult to open a business cutting people's hair than it is to start a business watching their children. State law lets anyone open a home day care without a license, a background check, or anything.
The state has 64 pages of rules for day cares, but only the licensed ones.
Those including rules forbidding loose blankets around infants.
"It's a systematic problem with the way the law is written. It does invite abuse," said attorney and child safety advocate Ken Levinson.
If a day care is unlicensed -- like Leah Shulka's -- there is only one rule: you can't watch more than three kids at one time.
Because they are unlicensed and off the state's radar, DCF has no idea if those day cares are lying.
Levinson said this system is designed to benefit those who break the law.
"There is an incentive not to be licensed, not to know you exist," said Levinson. "They get a sibling or another child, or a neighbor drops off another child to be watched, and that's a problem."
DCF records show Shulka had four kids in her care the day Landon Schultz died -- one more than allowed.
The complaint to DCF about Landon's death alleges on some days she would have seven or eight.
Either way, an illegal day care.
DCF director of child care regulation Jill Chase admits illegal day cares rarely show up until after a problem.
"When someone is operating illegally, the department does take action and requires that that individual stop operating or that the individual reduce the number of children in care," Chase said.
From January 2009 to April of this year, DCF was called to unlicensed facilities after the report of a problem 653 times.
That includes the visit to Leah Shulka's day care.
After Landon died, DCF took its normal first step after an illegal day care complaint -- it issued Shulka a letter telling her to stop providing child care to four or more children.
There was no notification to the public or other parents who sent their children to Shulka that she was running an illegal day care.
Again, something that did not happen, because state law does not require it.
Stacey Schultz and Marc Averitt hope their son's death will lead to changes in that law, and in a way let Landon live on longer than his five, short months.
"There's just a lot of things that aren't adding up to me," said Schultz.
DCF would not comment on the specific case involving Landon Schultz.
The Washington County Sheriff's office is investigating his death for possible criminal charges.