If Cathy Kowalski’s six-year quest is successful, the state of Idaho’s child care landscape will look an awful lot like Coeur d’Alene’s.
“Coeur d’Alene’s regulations have been a model for the state,” said Kowalski, a children’s advocate and former day care owner.
Kowalski is a member of the Child Care Summit, a group of concerned day care providers, parents and others who started meeting in Coeur d’Alene more than a year ago in an attempt to strengthen child care regulations statewide.
Kowalski, a former day care owner, likes to point out that Idaho has more licensing requirements for hairdressers and dog groomers than child care workers.
While day cares statewide with 13 or more children must pass minimal health and safety inspections, the same regulations don’t apply to programs with fewer children – except in Coeur d’Alene and a handful of other cities.
“Parents need to know that regardless what setting they choose, they’re going to know that their children are going to be in a healthy, safe situation,” Kowalski said.
State Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, sponsored similar legislation for the group last year, but it was introduced late and bogged down in the House Health and Welfare Committee.
Nearly half of the committee’s members are philosophically opposed to more government regulation, Sayler said, and the chairman opposed the bill.
So he’s trying again this year and has a beefed-up bill to introduce following a survey last summer by the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.
The survey had more than 1,300 responses and more than half described Idaho’s child-care regulations as inadequate to terrible; 99.5 percent said criminal background checks should be required for every person providing care; and more than 95 percent rated staff education and first aid/CPR certification as important to essential.
“We thought we were probably on the right track,” said Tina Gospodenetich, a member of the Child Care Summit, “and it reconfirmed our hopes and our understandings.”
Included in the legislation is a requirement that all day care workers, not just the licensee, undergo a criminal background check and that the licensee disclose whether anyone who may be on the day care’s premises has an immediate family member who is a registered sex offender.
Coeur d’Alene recently passed a similar rule that will go into effect on Jan. 1. The city also extended the criminal background check for anybody who is at the day care on a regular basis, other than parents, and is requiring all day-care workers to be certified in first aid/CPR and obtain a license.
“I thought we’d receive some complaints, but everybody is saying we really need this,” said Coeur d’Alene Deputy City Clerk Kathy Lewis.
The new regulations coincidentally followed an incident last summer when a registered sex offender allegedly violated his probation by enticing a 3-year-old with a lollipop at his wife’s day care. Last month, the Kootenai County prosecutor’s office dismissed the probation violation filed against Stephen Krous for lack of evidence.
A 1st District judge did find that Krous violated his probation by visiting the day care to do maintenance, even though no children were there at the time.
Day care providers are generally willing to undergo background checks and supportive of licensing requirements.
“It’s a good thing,” said Carlyn Shaffer, who runs an in-home day care in Hayden with fewer than 13 children. “The kids who are abused in one way or another, it’s often someone they knew.”
Shaffer provides background checks for herself and her husband, who works out of their garage, to prospective customers, and even thinks yearly background checks would be a good idea – despite the $40 cost.
But she does have a concern about another provision in the proposed bill that would affect her operation – child-to-adult ratios.
Shaffer, who was named Family Child Care Provider of the Year by the North Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children this year, cares for her 12 young clients by herself.
But under the proposed bill, if she has any children under 3 years old, she would then be limited to just 10 children.
“To take two kids off of my 12, that’s $800 a month,” she said. “That’s a lot of money.”
The money pays for three meals a day, preschool materials and other expenses she bears as a day care provider.
The bill also is more stringent than Coeur d’Alene’s law by limiting the number of children under the age of 2 per caregiver to five instead of six. Kowalski said the ratios are all about fire safety.
It was partly out of concern for the small provider that some legislators opposed the bill last year. But Kowalski said the experience of cities like Coeur d’Alene shows that more stringent laws don’t put people out of business.
“That’s a myth that has come about with each and every regulatory change with the cities,” she said.