Indianapolis mom of two Katie Lyman worked as a childcare provider at the LA Fitness Kids Klub, where she looked after children while their parents used the gym facilities. “I knew right off the bat, something was just a little off,” Katie told RTV6 Indianapolis news.
“The first couple of days, I had kids just running around crazy, being violent, and there weren’t any specific rules,” Katie said. She found herself watching 17 children, all under age 6. “It was chaos.”
Katie reported her situation to gym management, and even brought her own Lysol wipes to attempt to tidy up the space. She took pictures of broken toys and dirty floors and walls throughout the club. She tried to keep kids of different age ranges separate using the baby gate. She called the RTV6 news station to report the problem, who left a business card at the LA Fitness front desk. She also made a post about the gym on Facebook, which has been shared over 350 times.
When the news station reached out to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), the agency in charge of regulating childcare in the state, a spokeswoman said that if a facility is providing care for less than four hours per day, and not in consecutive days, then the facility is exempt from childcare regulations. This means the staff does not have to be CPR-certified, the facility does not have to be inspected for health and safety violations, and there are no imposed child-to-staff ratios.
This isn’t only the case in Indiana. Most other states have similar exemption laws. According to the California Department of Social Services website, “businesses that offer limited childcare to their clients and customers,” such as gyms, do not require any licensing. The same is true in North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania.
“I don’t think parents know there aren’t any codes to keep up on, and there’s no one monitoring the cleanliness,” Katie said. “They’re not regulated in any way.”
According to spiveylaw.com, the reason so many of these gyms are exempt from the licensing laws that a daycare or nursery school must follow, is because even though the children’s parents are out getting their cardio fix, not watching their children, they are still on the premises. If something were to happen, the parent theoretically would not be far away. Some gyms with babysitting services will ask parents to sign a form waiving the workout center’s liability in the event that a child gets injured.
Lauren West-Rosenthal, storyteller-in-chief of NotSoItGirl.com, was unaware of the lack of regulations when she took her now-4-year-old daughter with her to a New York Sports Clubs (NYSC) facility in Stamford, CT. Lauren’s daughter was only 8- or 9-months-old and “had never been left with anyone except for family.” But like many new moms, Lauren wanted to get back into a regular fitness routine and the babysitting service available at the NYSC was a requirement for her. “Before this, my daughter was not in full-time daycare,” Lauren said over the phone. “This was the only way as a working mom to make it work.”
When Lauren walked into the babysitting room, she saw “12 to15 kids of mixed ages” playing, with only two grown-ups (one of whom wasn’t initially in the room). When she asked the staff if special attention would be paid to young children, such as her baby, “they looked at me like I was crazy.” The overwhelming experience of seeing 5- and 6-year-old kids running around near babies such as her own, with very little adult supervision, caused her to panic. “I started crying, picked [my daughter] up, and ran out,” Lauren said. The next day, she returned to the gym to cancel her membership.
Despite Working Mother‘s repeated attempts to reach New York Sports Clubs for comment, no employee or spokesperson would speak on the record by our deadline about their policies for ensuring the health and safety of the children of clients who use their childcare services.
Katie was fired after less than three weeks of working at the gym. She said that while she was there, she often couldn’t reach parents whose numbers were on file, which makes sense, given that most people don’t answer their phones while they’re on the treadmill. But it also further negates the reason mentioned above for why gyms are exempt from the licensing laws—just because a parent is physically there does not mean they will be able to respond right away in the event of an emergency.
For working moms looking to leave their children at their gym’s daycare, RTV 6 recommends: ask the staff what training and regulations are in place to keep children safe. Go to the daycare room to see the conditions for yourself. Ask about CPR training, emergency protocol and safe sleep training. Check how many supervisors are there at a time, and compare to how many children are allowed in the space per hour. When states don’t do these basic checks, kids can get hurt. So work out with caution.