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Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: Strict regulations on child care drive up cost and hurt families

Who cares for your child when you can’t is an intensely personal decision. Parents want options that respect their values and fit their family culture. In the last 10 years, the biggest barrier to choice in child care has become the state.

Child care is a family function. When Mom or Dad isn’t available, parents turn first to their personal networks. Informal exchanges with extended family, friends and neighbors fill the need for occasional care, but anything on a consistent basis or involving money comes under state control.

Suppose you have a neighbor with kids of a similar age who regularly play together. You agree children need freedom to explore their environment and learn at their own pace. You have similar standards when it comes to immunizations, teaching safety and evaluating hazards. You share values on faith, family discipline and respect for others. You decide to work outside the home, and you need child care. Your neighbor has decided to work in the home and wants to contribute to her family’s income. She offers to provide child care for a reasonable fee, you accept, and it’s a win-win-win for the adults and the children.

And it’s totally illegal, subject to a fine of $150 per day for operating an unlicensed day care.

To be licensed requires reading 92 pages of rules published in the Washington Administrative Code and 388 pages in the Family Home Child Care Licensing Guide. Then there’s the application ($30), CPR and First Aid training ($20 to $100), Child Care Basics training (30 hours and $150), HIV/AIDS/Blood Borne Pathogen training ($25 online), background checks and fingerprinting for anyone in the home over the age of 13 ($55 per person), TB skin test for anyone in the home over the age of 16 (typically about $35 per person at a county health department), and a food handler permit ($10).

Discouraged yet? Wait for the home inspection.

It’s not uncommon for physical improvements to be required, adding more cost. The rules for licensed child care homes are not always consistent with the building code, and this is problematic. For example, the spacing of slats in a guardrail is limited to no more than 4 inches by the building code and 3 1/2 inches under child care rules. Even a brand-new house would not comply.

Electric baseboard heat is common in many homes. It’s also on the hot list of in-home hazards, and the rules require it be made inaccessible to children. One social worker told a child care provider to push a sofa against a baseboard heater. If you are familiar with baseboard heat, you will recognize this as a great way to start a fire.

Safe, loving care and a place to play is no longer considered enough; there must be a structured, state-approved curriculum. Potential new home-based providers are kept out by the daunting list of requirements and startup expenses for a low-margin business subject to bureaucratic micromanagement. The result of the steadily increasing burden of regulations is a loss of 6,800 private child care providers in the last 20 years, as demand has risen. The majority of those driven out have been family home-based care providers. Increasing regulations, including on the physical environment, record keeping of activities and mandatory continuing education, drive up the cost while driving down the quantity.

A recent orientation for potential in-home child care providers in Lincoln County drew a high level of interest. Not surprisingly, most were young mothers seeking to earn a modest income while staying home with their own children. Interest dissipated after the requirements were explained. Lack of child care was identified in 2015 by both private businesses and government agencies as a major barrier to recruiting and retaining employees in Lincoln County. It still is.

The big government solution is more taxpayer funding for more government programs to fix a government-created shortage. The sustainable solution is to focus on removing government barriers and establishing public policies that restore parents’ freedom to make their own choices. When it comes to families, we should all be pro-choice.

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