A front page Washington Post story on Sunday, March 10, “After a baby’s death, a Virginia mother fights for stronger child care standards,” shared the tragic story of 3-month-old Camden Lafkin’s death in a Virginia child care program. The child care provider and Camden’s cause of death are under investigation. What is known is that the program was unlicensed. (Virginia does not require an individual to obtain a child care license unless the provider cares for six or more children in the home – seven or more if the individual is caring for her own children since they are exempt from the official count of children in the home).
Virginia is one of eight states that allow such a large number of unrelated children to be cared for without a license. No license means:
- No background check to screen out those with a history of violent criminal offenses
- No minimum training requirements
- No minimum health and safety policies
- No inspections
In the case of baby Camden, her parents looked for child care but their options for licensed care were limited in their rural community. They received a recommendation from friends. They interviewed the provider and had a background check run. But, commercial checks are only as good as the records they can access. Without a fingerprint check against state and federal records, individuals can use an alias to circumvent the system. Unfortunately, the Lafkins found out the truth behind background checks the hard way. It turns out that baby Camden’s provider had a history of offenses under different aliases and without a fingerprint check, the aliases were unknown to the Camerons.
“We trusted this lady with our child,” said Elly Lafkin, Camden’s mother. “We didn’t realize that sending your child to an unlicensed, unregistered provider meant throwing her to the wolves.”
The same Washington Post newspaper also shared a story, “In Virginia, church run day care centers are exempt from licensing standards” about the death of baby Dylan Cummings in Little Eagles Day Care in Norfolk, a center affiliated with Bethel Temple Church of Deliverance, one of over 1,000 license-exempt child care centers in Virginia.
Because Little Eagles was exempt from licensing standards, the providers did not have to comply with state licensing requirements for staff training, staff:child ratios, basic health and safety requirements, or infant safe sleeping practices. On the day that baby Dylan died, 10 infants were packed into a hot, unventilated 12 by 12 foot room that fire marshalls had labeled a utility closet. The providers did not know about the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics for infants to be placed on their backs to sleep and baby Dylan was placed on his tummy on two foam pads with an ill-fitting sheet where he suffocated.
A few months ago, Judge Charles Poston wrote in a state court decision, “While the court is certainly sympathetic… the remedy for this situation lies in the sound discretion of the General Assembly, not with the judiciary.”
In the Virginian Pilot, an article that also ran on Sunday, “Day Care Centers Get Money Despite Losing Licenses,” described how $184,000 in taxpayer dollars had been paid to child care centers in Hampton Roads over the past year despite the fact that the licenses for these centers had been revoked. The money paid for the care of low income children. Because the centers were in the appeals process of license revocation, the state continued to pay them to care for children.
One would think that taxpayer dollars could only be used in programs in good standing. However, there is no “good standing” requirement in federal or state law and therefore it is left to the state’s discretion as to how they will steward taxpayer dollars.
Background checks and minimum training for child care providers, basic health and safety protections for children in child care, accountable stewardship of taxpayer dollars when paying the child care costs for low income children – it is time for the Virginia State Legislature to review the state’s child care policies to ensure that children are safe in child care. It’s time for Congress to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the law that allocates funds for child care to the states and sets the framework for state child care laws. Virginia needs to better protect children. The federal law should require it.