The Public Eye: Department of Social Services retains employee with daycare licensing violations

Donna Lee Bury has an intimate knowledge of the laws that apply to child care operators as a senior legal analyst in the California Department of Social Services division that licenses child care centers.

But a 2010 Sacramento County investigation found that she broke several of those laws when she operated her own child care facility out of her home.

Among other things, Bury’s license application said she would run the center. Yet she actually spent those hours working at her state job and left someone who had not received a criminal background clearance to watch the children at her Sacramento home, records show.

Bury refused to cooperate with the investigation and surrendered her license before the county could formally revoke it, according to a report from the county.

She continues to work on day care licensing issues for the state.

Sharon Coleman, president of the California Association for Family Child Care, whose members are regulated by the Department of Social Services, expressed shock that the state would continue to employ Bury.

“Is that story true?” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Michael Weston, a Department of Social Services spokesman, said Sacramento County brought the results of its investigation to the state, which followed up with its own investigation. He said the state decided not to take action against Bury.

He said he could not fully discuss the decision because of confidentiality laws. But he suggested that Bury’s decision to surrender her license before the county revoked it might have saved her job.

Reached by phone at her office in the department’s legal division, Bury declined to comment about the case.

Bury works in the division’s Community Care Licensing enforcement unit, which handles cases against child care centers suspected of violating state laws. She analyzes and develops cases, works with state attorneys and plays a role in settlement agreements with day care centers, according to her job description.

Bury is “required to have extensive knowledge of laws relating to the Community Care Licensing program administered by the department,” the description states.

Sacramento County has been one of the few counties that enforce those laws. But starting next month, the county will cede those responsibilities to the state, a decision the county made for budgetary reasons earlier this year.

Investigations by The Bee and the California state auditor have raised questions about the ability of Community Care Licensing to protect children. The auditor’s office investigated the division three times in five years, most recently in 2006, following a series of deaths at child care centers that remained open after being cited for excessive safety violations.

When Bury applied for a license to operate a child care center at her home in 2009, she provided Sacramento County with a reference from one of her colleagues at the Department of Social Services. The county provided The Bee with a copy of the reference but redacted the person’s name, saying it is confidential.

The person wrote that she worked with Bury in the legal division and thought she would provide a “loving, genuine and respectful environment where parents will feel completely comfortable leaving their children in her care.”

The following year, a Sacramento County investigator responded to a complaint about Bury, who provided care under a contract with Child Action Inc. of Sacramento. On July 12, 2010, and July 21, 2010, the investigator tried to get a response from Bury, but she “refused to allow a home visit,” county records show.

After the first inquiry, Bury sent a letter on July 14, 2010, to the county saying she did not want to be licensed any more.

The county cited her for four violations of state law: Allowing someone in the facility without a criminal background check, being absent from the facility more than 20 percent of the time, providing misleading information and refusing to allow the investigator to visit her home.

Bury was assessed a civil penalty of $500. The case was forwarded to the Department of Social Services but not to the District Attorney’s Office because there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, county spokeswoman Laura McCasland said.

The county did not investigate the person operating the day care facility in Bury’s absence, Norris Drummond, because its jurisdiction ended when Bury gave up her license. McCasland said. The Bee was unable to reach Drummond last week.

Bury made $11,000 in the year she provided care for Child Action, according to records in a bankruptcy case she filed two years ago. In that case, Bury listed $60,000 in credit card debt, most of which she was able to discharge.