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Killing Of 12-Year-Old Baby Sitter Prompts Call For Regulation

Baby-sitting is unregulated in Washington state, and one of the Legislature’s leading child advocates says the beating death of a 12-year-old who was tending five young children until 2:30 a.m. shows that some standards are needed.

But the chairwoman of the House Children and Family Services Committee indicated that Republicans won’t go along with “micromanaging of families.”

The sponsor of a popular “Supersitter” training session says the maturity level of each baby sitter varies so much that it would be impossible to write one-size-fits-all regulations.

The comments came Monday as policymakers began reacting to the death of Ashley Jones of Stanwood, who died after being beaten unconscious. She had been sitting with five young children, ranging from age 2 to 8. Her parents lived down the street and had been in contact partway through the evening.

Lawmakers and others interviewed Monday said they aren’t blaming any of the parents involved, and the focus should be on the 17-year-old boy arrested in the case.

But Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, said some regulations may be in order. She suggested hearings and possibly legislation in January.

“I can’t imagine leaving a 12-year-old in charge of five little ones - she was a child herself,” she said. “I would hope we could look at this rationally. Why not regulate something like this? Obviously that is too many kids for too young a kid. Common sense tells you that. That’s too heavy a load.”

Sitters need some training and some consideration should be given to limiting the number of children the sitter can handle at each age, she says.

“I’d think maybe (she should be) 14 when you have a little baby or someone up to 3 years old,” Prentice said.

But the two lawmakers who head the House and Senate committees that would handle such legislation don’t see how the regulations could be written with enough flexibility to fit individual circumstances.

Rep. Suzette Cooke, R-Kent, head of the House Children & Family Services Committee, said it’s not a proper role for government.

“I think getting into regulation at that level would be overdoing it,” she said. “It is a risk, a risk any parent has to weigh (in choosing a sitter or in allowing one’s own child to baby-sit). But I still think it is real risky for us to get into this degree of micromanaging of families.”

Sen. Jeanine Long, R-Mill Creek, head of the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee, said, “My first reaction was ‘Gee, five kids for a 12-year-old sounds like a lot,”’ but said she didn’t want to “add to anybody’s heartbreak” by second-guessing the Stanwood situation.

She said children’s maturity level differs so widely, as does the difficulty of dealing with a child - “sometimes just one child can be a handful.”

Long said she wouldn’t rule out Senate hearings, but said she can’t envision what a useful regulation would be. If anything, the Legislature should see to it that halfway houses and juvenile facilities do a better job of screening youths and assessing the risk to the community.