In-home day cares often advertise on social medial sites like Facebook and next door claiming to provide quality child care close to home.
But the ABC Action News I-Team uncovered smaller is not always better, especially if those centers aren't licensed.
“It was like Disney World there,” said Jessica Meyers. “In a cul-de-sac, in a very nice neighborhood.”
Meyers placed her child in the Land O’ Lakes in Home Daycare Center for more than a year.
“She had actually advertised on Facebook,” said another mother whose child attended the daycare.
Homeowner Kristi Delaney cared for up to eight infants and toddlers at a time.
“She was doing emergency contacts, immunizations, sign in, check out,” said the unidentified mother.
But she and other parents say Delaney didn't tell parents her daycare wasn't licensed, even though she charged parents hundreds of dollars a week.
“I paid a lot of money for my daughter to be there…over $50,000…to make sure my daughter was in a safe, loving environment,” said Meyers, who operates a Pasco County restaurant with her husband.
But nanny cam video surveillance revealed what was really going on inside.
It shows Delaney popping one boy’s head, then giving a high-five to his brother.
She later appears to put her hands on a child’s face for more than 20 seconds.
“I just don't understand how you can put your hands on an innocent child who's scared. You can see they're afraid,” said Meyers.
“As a mother, I'm really enraged,” said the unidentified mother.
Delaney's own mother Gail Ewing watched the kids when her daughter wasn't there.
"Stop it! Now!" she screams at one child.
She hits another with a juice bottle.
“Get down from there! Put your feet down!” she can be heard screaming.
“It really showed me how little that Kristi cared for these children,” said the unidentified mother.
Kristi's husband sean recorded the videos and gave them to parents.
He and his wife had ongoing domestic problems were in the process of getting a divorce.
“She was arrested for domestic assault,” said Meyers, who says her husband had to go get their daughter early one day when law enforcement officers were called to the house.
The unidentified mother says Sean showed her a nude photo that Kristi took of her infant daughter on a changing table and sent to him.
“There is no attempt to cover her. She's basically spread-eagle, wide open,” she said.
She called police to report the nude photo.
Other parents called police to report abuse, but Kristi was never charged.
The Florida Department of Children and Families investigated and determined Delaney operated an illegal daycare center, but the state didn't take action since the business was already closed.
We went to her home, but no one answered her door.
We reached Delaney on her phone, and she referred us to her attorney, who didn't return our call.
Her mother, Gail Ewing, also didn't respond to our message.
“It's crazy to me to think that because she didn't have a license, they couldn't enforce rules,” said attorney Mike Caruso.
Parents hired him and attorney Michael Serrano to pursue civil legal action.
"What we are seeking is the truth. Once truth is obtained, on one side there is accountability, and on the other side there becomes closure. This is Justice,” said Caruso.
When asked if he thought Delaney would try to open another daycare, Serrano replied, “I think she would if she could. “
“I think they need to re-open the criminal side and look at this evidence,” said Serrano.
The DCF report says during their site visit, Delaney had 5-to-6 climb on play structures, 6-ride on toys, cribs, high chairs and an abundance of toys.
The report says when an investigator mentioned other day cares might want to buy some of it, "She did not appear interested with the assistance to sell the items."
“I'm worried for other children. I really am,” said Meyers.
Parents are speaking out now, warning others not to make the same mistakes they did.
“Just do your homework, check their license, go online,” said Meyers.
Dr. Steve Knobl is director of the Hillsborough County Early Learning Coalition.
“Knowing what could happen can be very scary,” he said.
Knobl says all home day cares in Hillsborough County are required to have licenses, but the rules can vary by location.
He says there are a few important things parents should look for before putting their child in a childcare center.
"Do the children seem happy? Are the teachers engaged? Does it look like it's formal, as far as is there actual instruction going on and the kids are learning?” Knobl said.
You can check out local resources on his organization’s website.
Or you can go to the Florida Department of Children and Families website to check out childcare centers statewide.
Here is where you can verify a center’s license: https://cares.myflfamilies.com/PublicSearch
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org