Don’t look for new day-care laws anytime soon as a result of Sen. Gordon Crow’s recent interest in child care.
But parents in North Idaho could see some improvements in the quality of local day-care facilities as a result of work done by Crow and a child-care panel over the last two months.
The 15-member panel formed following critical news coverage of Idaho’s child-care system.
Working Mother magazine this fall ranked Idaho among the three worst states in the nation for child care. Idaho has little regulation of day-care providers and meager enforcement of those regulations.
The panel released its report Wednesday, which outlines the problems with child care in North Idaho and offers some possible remedies.
Among the problems the panel noted were:
Providers and agencies that oversee child care are fragmented and disorganized, and rural providers feel isolated from information and resources.
Day-care centers lack standards for enforcement of health and safety.
Quality of care in some unlicensed facilities is lower than in licensed facilities.
Group day-care facilities have minimal requirements for licensing, jeopardizing the health and safety of children.
Child-care providers and employees have limited earnings, leading to high turnover and less experienced day-care workers.
The report will be delivered to the Legislature, Gov. Phil Batt, Department of Health and Welfare and other interested parties, but not with the intent of pushing for legislation this session. Before that can happen, more statewide study needs to be done, the panelists said.
“The needs are disparate,” Crow said. “For us to presume that the snapshot is the same for (the Panhandle) as the rest of the state is a little bit presumptuous.”
Eventually, however, Crow said he’d like to see a statewide board of professional practices to self-regulate the day-care industry, such as the Board of Medicine does in the medical profession.
That board could grow out of the efforts of regional coalitions, the formation of which are a central recommendation in the panel’s report.
“The time is ripe,” said Carol Lindsay, a child-care instructor at North Idaho College and a member of the panel. “Overwhelmingly we have discovered there’s a need for an organized approach…The time to strike is now.”
The Panhandle Health District will take the lead in coordinating county coalitions of day-care providers, agency representatives, schools and others with a stake in child care.
The health district has a contract from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to run a child-care resource center. In the past, the center primarily processed reimbursements to day-care providers for people enrolled in the Idaho Child Care Program, which helps low-income people pay for child care.
Now the center is expanding its role to education, developing resources, linking parents to providers and linking providers to resources, explained Alice Anderson, who operates the center.
The coalition could help child-care providers network, access resources for training, find ways to raise standards through local regulation and voluntary efforts, increase the availability of non-traditional day-care facilities and otherwise brainstorm to improve child care in the region.
Britton emphasized that the needs are different county by county. While day-care providers want higher standards for licensed facilities in Kootenai County, people in St. Maries simply need more child care, period.
“For them, licensing is not at the top of the list,” she said.
Some support for coalition activities could come from the state’s new Child Care Quality Improvement fund, which has at least $360,000 available annually for projects over the next five years. Lindsay challenged Crow to convince the Legislature to come up with more money to improve child care.
“It is critical that there is some financial support,” she said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Day-care goals The North Idaho Child Care Panel is encouraging agencies and child-care providers in the region to form a coalition and pursue the following measures: Educate parents on selecting a day care facility and the availability of resources to help pay for day care; Create a special services list of day-care providers for parents with information such as special accreditation and training, whether a day-care facility is licensed, and staff/child ratios; Provide training opportunities for day-care workers; Provide incentives for day-care facilities to get licensed or achieve special accreditation; Develop a single complaint list from the different agencies that regulate day care and make it available in each county for parent review if requested.