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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Safer child-care backers seeking views of Idahoans

Advocates of safer child care are doing some more groundwork before they return to the Legislature in 2006 with their second plea for statewide licensing of child-care businesses.

The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children has distributed an electronic survey statewide to learn what residents believe is important in child care.

National statistics say about 65 percent of kids are in care outside their homes. Karen Mason, executive director of IAEYC in Boise, said no firm numbers are available for Idaho because the state lacks full licensing. But she estimated that Idaho has about 6,000 child-care providers watching over about 100,000 children.

Last year, the Child Care Summit, an Idaho group promoting higher safety standards for child-care centers, asked the Legislature to tighten child-care licensing laws for the first time in more than a dozen years. The request went nowhere.

“Last year was really discouraging,” Mason said. “We didn’t do a good job of developing the support we need, and that’s what we hope to do with this survey. We need to get some information back to legislators.”

The association expects to find support for licensing in the returned surveys but is more interested in gaining information, Mason said.

“If surveys don’t back up what we support, maybe we need to do more education,” she said. “We’re trying to build a coalition.”

Doug Fagerness, director of the North Idaho College Head Start program in Coeur d’Alene, belonged to last year’s Child Care Summit. He said he had trouble understanding why only eight Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene, require stricter licensing of child-care businesses than the state and why those licensing standards vary from city to city.

The state requires licenses for centers that care for more than 12 children. To earn a license, those centers must undergo health and safety inspections and criminal background checks of all people older than 11 who have contact with children. Employees who work with children also need four hours of training each year. Fagerness said people assume all child-care centers must offer the same protections. But they don’t.

“This will be a strong tool to take to our legislators to show them what people in Idaho want or don’t want in relation to statewide regulation to protect and nurture our children,” Fagerness said in an e-mail.

The survey asks respondents to rate 24 statements regarding child care. The statements include everything from group sizes and training to parent involvement and playground equipment. Here’s an example:

“Providers are knowledgeable about disease control and immunizations.” Choose unnecessary, not very important, somewhat important, important, very important or essential.

It asks for ratings on the importance of hand-washing and knowledge of first-aid, nutrition and developmentally appropriate toys. It also asks about the importance of criminal background checks, the number of caregivers per child and the ages of child-care providers. It ends with “Current Idaho state child care regulations to protect and nurture our children are: excellent, sufficient, inadequate, terrible, don’t know.”

Fagerness said he’s already received about 700 completed surveys. The deadline is Sept. 30.

“The survey will get us what we need and we’ll draft legislation that will be reflective of that,” said Fagerness. “I’m convinced people want something. This is their chance to say what.”