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Day-care rules slammed

Thu., March 1, 2007, midnight

NEW YORK – Idaho ranked behind the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. military in a survey of regulations for child care centers.

The news comes the same week in which a legislative committee killed a bill requiring minimum safety standards and criminal history checks for Idaho day-care centers.

Some members of the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee said a better solution is for mothers to stay home with their children; others said the regulations would pose a burden on care providers, particularly in rural areas.

The first-of-its-kind survey, by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, contends that many states are lax in their regulation and oversight of child care centers. That leads to infrequent inspections, deficient safety requirements, and low hiring standards, including a lack of full criminal background checks.

The association reviewed policies and regulations for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Defense Department, which ranked a decisive No. 1 overall and led both subcategories – one measuring standards that are in place, the second measuring how vigorously the standards are enforced.

Following the military atop the rankings were Illinois, New York, Maryland, Washington, Oklahoma, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee, Minnesota and Vermont.

Idaho placed last, behind Louisiana, Nebraska, Kentucky, California and Kansas.

“State child care standards and oversight in this nation are not protecting our children and are not preparing them for success in school,” said Linda Smith, the association’s executive director.

She urged action by Congress and state legislatures. An estimated 12 million children under age 5 are in non-parental child care each week.

Criteria for the rankings included caseloads for center inspectors, frequency of inspections, health and safety requirements, background checks, staff qualifications and activities offered to children.

Idaho’s low ranking came as no surprise to state Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, who has been trying unsuccessfully for three years to tighten regulation of child care centers. Oversight is minimal for Idaho centers with fewer than 13 children; many are not required to be licensed, and employees do not need first-aid training or a high-school diploma.

Some conservative legislators object to tougher regulations as “a threat to the family, or a burden on small providers,” Sayler said. “I don’t really hear concern from them about children.”

The report, titled “We Can Do Better,” said eight states do not even require annual inspections of child care centers, let alone conduct them quarterly as Smith’s association recommends. The association also advises that each inspector have no more than 50 centers to monitor; the report said 21 states have caseloads of more than 140 per inspector.

Regarding staff, the report said 21 states have no minimum educational requirement for child care teachers. At the other extreme, New Jersey and the Defense Department require center directors to have a bachelor’s degree.

The military’s system, which has expanded and improved dramatically over the past 15 years, encompasses more than 740 facilities worldwide with spaces for 184,000 children. Its training and safety standards are considered state-of-the-art.

Louisiana will soon join about a dozen other states that have established rating systems for child care centers. In California, a bill to create such a system was introduced in the legislature this week.

The report said elected officials could take “simple steps” to ease the worst problems.

It said Congress should require fingerprint checks and basic training for all paid day-care workers as a condition for states to receive federal child care funds. It urged states to improve staff-to-child ratios and require centers to meet basic health and safety standards.

“States are making this harder than they need to,” said Smith. “If they just do the basics, they can fix a lot of the problems.”


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