Family home child care providers will soon be subject to a host of tighter rules designed to boost child safety and edification.
The changes affect every aspect of family home child care, from the kind of cribs used to communicating with parents about their child’s development and progress. Most are effective March 31, with a few to be phased in during the rest of 2012.
The overhaul marks the first time since 2004 that the state has tightened rules in Washington Administrative Code governing the state’s nearly 5,000 family home child care establishments.
Child safety and development were the main drivers for the changes, said Bob McLellan, senior assistant director for licensing oversight at the early learning department. Attempts also were made to improve efficiency in family home child care worker background checks, McLellan said.
“It’s a really good body of work,” he said. “We know everyone doesn’t agree with everything in the rules. In all, they are child-centered and research-based or evidence-based practices.”
One of the most significant changes requires all providers, their staff and other residents of a family home child care, older than 16, to submit to a fingerprint-based background check. Currently, residents who have lived in the state for at least three years do not have to submit fingerprints for background checks.
The fingerprints turn up arrests and convictions recorded in the FBI’s national criminal database. In comparison, a background check without fingerprints would produce just arrests and convictions from within the state.
For the first time, children ages 13-16 working or living in a family home child care will be subject to a noncriminal background check to review juvenile delinquency records. The information will be used to determine whether a teenager should be authorized or disqualified from having access to children in child care.
Wendy Patterson, president of Clark County Family Child Care Association, said that requirement has some providers worried.
“We have day care moms who (think) these are their sons’ homes, and they’re concerned they can’t live there anymore,” Patterson said.
The new rules prohibit the use of cribs manufactured prior to June 28, 2011, unless the provider can document older cribs meet federal safety standards. Some cribs manufactured between July 1, 2010 and June 27, 2011 may meet those standards if the manufacturer offers a certificate of compliance.
A change raising financial concerns for providers is the elimination of grass as an acceptable ground cover around playground equipment. New rules require a 6-foot fall zone around all playground equipment with a climbing platform more than 48 inches tall. Acceptable ground cover is restricted to pea gravel or wood chips 9 or more inches deep, or shredded recycled rubber a minimum of 6 inches deep.
“It’s very expensive to meet that requirement,” Patterson said. “A lot of the ladies are taking out swings because they can’t comply.”
Quarterly earthquake drills and an annual lock-down drill will be mandatory in addition to the previous monthly fire drill requirement.
New providers must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent in order to be licensed. A GED or a Child Development Associate credential would be counted as an equivalent. Existing providers have until 2017 to meet the minimum education requirement. Additionally, providers will be required to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years.
“The current rules neglected to include a continuing education requirement,” said Kara Klotz, spokeswoman with the Department of Early Learning.
Screen time for children will be limited to two hours per day during operation. That’s based on guidelines by Caring for Our Children National Health and Safety Performance Standards.
Providers also will be required to communicate with parents about their children’s development and progress at least twice per year. They also must provide a policy outlining how parents may ask questions and express concerns and how they’ll furnish responses. Additionally, the provider’s philosophy on child care must be posted in a spot visible to parents.
In a move designed to create more efficiency, background checks will become portable by July 1, McLellan said. Currently, background checks are associated with a child care site. A child care worker must undergo a separate background check each time he or she moves to a new employer. Under the new system, the background will follow the worker.
The worker can deposit their information in an online portal where the department can access it. Parents and employers also can access the information through the Child Care Check system, https://apps.del.wa.gov/check/CheckSearch.aspx.
“We process more than 30,000 background checks every year,” McLellan said. “It will greatly reduce the volume of paperwork.”