Saturday May 19, 2018
By Chris Serres
Past misdeeds of day-care providers fed mistrust, legislative inquiry
Prekindergarten children sat down to a dinner of fruit cocktail, pizza and milk at First Choice Child Care Center in Minneapolis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii • Star Tribune
Zainab Hashi welled
up with anger at a Senate committee hearing last week as she watched
speaker after speaker accuse Somali-owned child-care centers of
defrauding the state, and even worse, diverting money meant for poor
families to fund terrorist groups overseas.
we not allowed to testify?” asked Hashi, who is Somali-American and owns
a day-care center in Minneapolis and sat near the front row at the
hearing. “We are being scapegoated … and vilified for political reasons,
and it’s disgusting.”
co-founder of Minnesota’s largest association of minority-owned day-care
providers, Hashi has spent much of the past three years trying to
change public perceptions of their businesses. She started at a
difficult time: A series of high-profile criminal prosecutions involving
Somali-owned day cares put the industry on the defensive and led to
heightened scrutiny from the state. Regulators found incidents of
overbilling and that some providers were recruiting parents as employees
on the condition that they enroll their children using public
then, her organization has pushed to shore up quality by educating
providers on regulatory compliance and expanding participation in
Minnesota’s child-care quality ratings system. It has also attacked the
stigma head-on by kicking out owners suspected of fraud. Her group, the Minnesota Minority Childcare Association, even worked with state officials on ways to detect fraud and kickbacks.
and other Somali day-care owners feel their voices have gone largely
ignored in the wake of a recent television news report suggesting
rampant fraud in the state’s child-care subsidy program. The widely publicized report
alleged that Minnesota refugee families are taking suitcases full of
cash to Somalia and Middle Eastern countries where terrorist groups are
has roiled Somali day-care operators and their family clients across
the state, just as many felt they were finally beginning to emerge from a
cloud of suspicion. In April 2016, Abdirizak Gayre of Minneapolis and
Ibrahim A. Osman of New Hope, were charged with an extended fraud
against the child-care assistance program. Using secret cameras,
investigators found 1,673 incidents in which their day-care center
claimed children were in attendance when records showed they were
A half-dozen similar cases
led to a series of meetings between the state Department of Human
Services, which administers the child-subsidy program, and child-care
providers who serve Somali children, as well as training sessions to
educate providers about licensing rules, background studies laws and
a shadow over us then, and now that shadow has grown much larger,” said
Isaak Geedi, chairman of the Minnesota Minority Childcare Association.
Hashi and several close relatives founded First Choice Child Care Center
in Minneapolis, investing their entire savings — more than a
quarter-million dollars — to prepare a facility and hire experienced
staff, which now cares for about 75 children. As Hashi pointed out,
high-quality preschool is crucial for a group of young children who come
from homes where English is not the main language spoken.
recent afternoon, a group of two dozen preschoolers — some dressed in
brightly colored hijabs and floral dresses — marched in unison with
their hands placed on each others’ shoulders through their tidy
classroom. Moments later, each child was calmly sitting with pencils
behind small desks, writing out names for pictured objects.
whom many of the children affectionately call “ ‘hooyo,” or “mother” in
Somali, paced between the desks, checking their progress.
When carts of pizza and fruit cocktail arrived at dinner time, Hashi called out to the children, “Did you all wash your hands?”
“Yes!” the children yelled.
“Are you ready to eat?” she asked.
“Yes!” they yelled, throwing up their hands.
“I have a
great passion for this work, so when people say we are stealing from the
government, it hurts me right here,” Hashi said, pressing her hand
against her heart.
First Choice Child Care Center, Zainab Hashi is deeply concerned that
Somali child care centers are being wrongly condemned for the actions of
a few bad providers, following a Fox 9 news report suggesting a link
with terrorism. Richard Tsong-Taatarii • Star Tribune
challenges the idea that Somali day-care owners are enriching themselves
through state child-care subsidies. The monthly subsidies, which amount
to about $300 per child, do not cover the cost of one-on-one tutoring,
meals, the volumes of coursework, and the other learning accessories,
including more than three dozen iPads.
don’t understand how big of an investment this is,” said Nasro Abshir,
26, daughter of Hashi and a supervisor at the center. “Every cent that
we get from [the child-subsidy program] is reinvested directly into the
Thursday evening, the first day of Ramadan, a group of about 40
Somali-American day-care center owners and their relatives gathered for a
hastily arranged meeting at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, in
south Minneapolis. The focus was the television news report, and the
likely backlash by lawmakers and state regulators.
challenged the accuracy of the TV report, and complained bitterly of the
relentless focus on Somali-owned providers. According to the Department
of Human Services, payments on behalf of Somali children account for
just 28 percent of the roughly $250 million in annual payments made
through the child-care assistance program.
Hashi and other Somali-American owners have addressed the complaints
head on. They urge their members to join the state’s “Parent Aware” ratings system,
which gives close scrutiny of classroom quality and school management.
Today, about 80 percent of the association’s membership participates in
the program, said Geedi.
has also been aggressive about alerting the state to fraudulent
providers, and kicking out members that are suspected of bilking the
state, he said. Since 2016, six providers have been pushed out of the
group, Geedi said.
come a long way toward establishing uniform standards,” he said. “But
there is still a lot of work to be done around building public trust.”