This past week, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, held a press conference at an early learning center in Washington, D.C. to announce new rules to promote the health and safety of children in child care. She said that in the absence of legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Administration is proposing to revise current regulations to better promote the safety and healthy development of children.
In addition to the Secretary, a child care center provider and an individual licensed to operate a child care program out of her home spoke about the need for quality child care. They talked about the importance of high quality care for children to both be safe and in a setting that leads to school readiness. For millions of children, child care is their early learning program.
One of Child Care Aware® of America’s parent leaders from Virginia, Elly Lafkin, spoke at the press conference about the death of her baby in a child care program. She told everyone how she and her husband had limited access to child care because they live in a rural area. She said this was their first baby and they were doubly anxious and cautious. A background check was conducted but it was a name check NOT a check using a fingerprint match against state and federal records. Unfortunately, the name check searched for only that particular name and it was only after the death of her baby when a police investigation was conducted that she and her husband learned of multiple aliases her provider had and the list of offenses for which her provider was convicted. She looked right at the audience and told them – if she knew that the provider had those offenses, she never would have selected her among other providers to care for her baby. For more information about state requirements on background checks, click here to see the latest information and state tables from our research.
The proposed HHS regulations include minimum training requirements like safe sleep practices and first aid, practices to prevent shaken baby syndrome and emergency evacuation or shelter-in-place planning. The Secretary called them common sense requirements. She talked about the importance of continuity of care. She is concerned that frequent recertification requirements means in many states that parents are losing access to care, not because they earned more money, but because they somehow did not comply with the paperwork. Another key component of the proposed new rules is for states to ensure that parents have more information about the quality of care so that they can be informed consumers. The Secretary said inspection reports should be posted on the Internet and parents should receive information about child care programs through the use of quality indicators that can be easily understood by the public. This only makes sense. Parents really can’t make informed choices if they don’t have information.
Congress has not reauthorized CCDBG in 17 years. It makes sense for HHS to review current regulatory authority to better protect children. The proposed regulations are posted on the Internet and HHS is inviting public comment over the next 75 days. There are several areas in the regulations that ask for specific comments with regard to aspects of quality care such as scope and hours of training, frequency of inspections, and an appropriate time-frame during which to phase-in the new requirements.
Child Care Aware® of America will be working in the weeks ahead to promote the best quality care possible. We’ll be holding webinars and preparing summaries of various aspects of the proposed regulations. The comment period of 75 days is a long time, but it will go by fast. HHS needs to hear from us about what we believe will promote the health and safety of children in child care.