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Texas deaths prompt home day-care reviews

HOUSTON -- Working two jobs to make ends meet, Keisha Brown was looking for affordable, safe child care for her 16-month-old son.

After visiting a home day care run by Jessica Tata, she thought she had found what she wanted. Tata "seemed like a nice person and knew what she was doing," according to Brown, 21.

But about a month later, her son, Elias Castillo, was dead -- killed with three other children in a fire last year that started when, investigators, say Tata left the children alone at her day care while she went shopping. Tata is now on trial on one of four felony murder counts she faces, related to Elias' death.

Other parents who entrusted their children to Tata have told similar stories during the day care owner's trial in Houston, with some even vetting it through the state agency that licenses such facilities. After the fire, state lawmakers made some changes to improve oversight of home day care centers.

But child care experts say Texas is among many states still lagging behind what advocates believe should be the standard for keeping tabs on such facilities.

According to a report this year by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, Texas and many other states fall short in terms of training requirements, background checks and inspection standards.

Investigators have said the fire was sparked by oil in a frying pan on a stovetop burner that had been left on. Tata, 24, faces up to life in prison if convicted. Her trial began last week and is expected to last about a month.

As of August, Texas had 25,045 day care operations, including 6,302 registered child care homes like the one Tata ran. While licensed child care centers in Texas are inspected at least once a year, home day care facilities like Tata's are reviewed every one to two years.

A spokesman for the state agency that licenses day care facilities, said the state is doing enough to ensure day care facilities are being properly run and regulated.

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