It’s Time to Fix Child Care – Reauthorization Bill Introduced in Senate

Last week, Senator Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Burr (R-NC), Senator Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the primary federal grant program that provides child care assistance for families and funds child care quality initiative.  Child Care Aware® of America announced its support for the “Child Care Development and Block Grant Act of 2013” introduced today, which would reauthorize the program for the first time in over 17 years.

mikluskiCCDBG is administered to states in formula block grants. States use the grants to subsidize child care for working families earning low incomes. Most of this assistance is administered through vouchers or certificates, which can be used by parents for the provider or program of their choice. In addition, the law requires no less than 4 percent of CCDBG funding in each state to be used for activities to improve the overall quality of child care for all children within a community (for example, Child Care Resource & Referral services, training for child care providers, infant and toddler specialists, quality rating systems, etc.).

Over 20 years ago, Department of Defense (DoD) child care was not accountable, quality was poor, and the safety of children was compromised. Congress passed the Military Child Care Act in 1989 to ensure that funds would be spent in an accountable manner, that care would be of minimum quality, and that child care would be provided in an affordable manner for families. Child Care Aware® of America calls on Congress to use the lessons of the military to reauthorize and strengthen CCDBG so that civilian families have access to affordable, quality child care in all communities. Congress should also ensure that funding is sufficient so that eligible children are able to receive assistance.

Under S. 1086, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013 states would be required to:

  • Conduct comprehensive background checks (state and federal fingerprint checks, sex offender registry check, and check of the child abuse and registry for all licensed, regulated, or registered providers that receive CCDBG funds.
  • Inspect programs at least once before licensing, and at least one unannounced inspection annually.  Reports of the inspections must also be posted electronically.
  • Include a set of workforce and competency standards for providers, developed in consultation with the State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care, using evidence-based training frameworks, incorporating states early learning and development guidelines, developmentally appropriate practices for different age groups, English learners, and children with disabilities.
  • Training at a minimum would cover:
  • Child Abuse Recognition and Prevention
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practices
  • Early mathematics and early language and literacy development to support development in young children
  • Behavior management strategies
  • Supporting children with disabilities
  • Specialized care for infants and toddlers
  • Raise the eligibility period to 12-months, helping to ensure continuity of care for children and families.

This reauthorization bill is a huge step to move the nation forward ensuring children are safe and receiving the best early learning experiences while in child care. Children’s early years are proven to be the most impactful time to create strong learners. This bill sets the standard all families expect for their children.

CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years. This bill includes a great deal of measures to improve the quality of child care and ensure that all children in child care settings are safe.  It is time to protect children in child care and promote their healthy development.

Click here to contact your Senator and urge them to cosponsor S. 1086 today!

A Child Care License Should Mean Children are Safe

This week, the New Republic ran an article, “The Hell of American Day Care: An Investigation into the barely regulated, unsafe business of looking after our children.”  The article reviewed the condition of child care in America today and highlighted the Texas child care program where a fire killed four of seven young children being cared for by Jessica Tata in February 2011.

In many communities throughout America, child care is hard to find, harder to afford, and too often – of questionable quality.  Quality child care matters to ensure that children are both safe and in a setting to promote their healthy development.   Underlying the New America article is the dismal state of child care policies throughout America.

Child Care Centers

Child Care Aware® of America released its 7th child care licensing report last week, “We Can Do Better: 2013 Update,” which scored and ranked the states on state child care center licensing policies and oversight.  No state earned an “A” and only the Department of Defense (DoD) earned a “B.”  The remaining top 10 states (New York, Washington, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota and Tennessee) earned a “C.”  Twenty-one states earned a “D” and the remaining 20 states earned a score of 60 or less, a failing grade.

Key Findings from the report:

  • Only 13 states require a comprehensive background check for child care center staff (a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check against the child abuse registry and a check against the sex offender registry).
  • State training requirements vary greatly. The reality is that most state training requirements are minimal. States sometimes specify training topics, but many do not mention the number of hours needed to complete this training. There is no assurance that topics are covered in a comprehensive or systemic way or whether an array of required topics becomes a checklist only – with little likelihood of strengthening the knowledge and behavior of child care providers.
  • Only 16 states address each of 10 basic health requirements and 10 basic safety requirements recommended by pediatric experts. (For example, only 9 states and DoD require initial training in CPR for all staff).
  • Even the strongest program requirements are undercut by ineffective monitoring. Nine states (Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont) do not require inspections at least once per year.

Family Child Care Homes

Last year, Child Care Aware® of America released its 6th child care licensing report, “Leaving Children to Chance: 2012 Update,” which scored and ranked the states on state family child care home policies and oversight.   Of the top 10 scoring states, no state earned an “A.”  Only one state (Oklahoma) earned a “B.”  Three states (Washington, Kansas and Delaware) and DoD earned a “C,” four states (Maryland, Alabama, the District of Columbia and Colorado) earned a “D” and the 10th state – Massachusetts, with a score of 86 out of 150, at 57 percent, earned an “F” (as did all remaining states).

Sixteen states scored zero. Eight scored zero because they do not inspect family child care homes before licensing or regulating them  (Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, West Virginia and Texas).  Another eight states scored zero because they either allow more than six children in the home before requiring a license or do not license small family child care homes (Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia).  For example, South Dakota allows 12 children to be in a home before requiring a licensing (the 13th child triggers the state licensing requirement).

Key Findings from the report:

  • Only 11 states require a comprehensive background check for individuals who wish to operate a child care business out of their home.
  • State training requirements are minimal with five states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas) not requiring any hours of training before operating  a home child care.
  • Only 15 states address each of 10 basic health requirements and 10 basic safety requirements recommended by pediatric experts.
  • Even the strongest program requirements are undercut by ineffective monitoring. About half the states do not require at least one inspection per year.

What Can Be Done?

The Child Care and Development Block Grant, the federal law that allocates funds to states for child care and sets parameters for state child care laws, has not been reauthorized in 17 years (since 1996).  The law does not require background checks. The law does not require training for child care providers. The law does not require inspections.  That’s just wrong. It’s time to change the law.

Nearly 11 million children under age five are in some type of child care setting every week. First, children should be safe in child care.  Second, child care settings should promote their healthy development.

The President has proposed a comprehensive early learning strategy to promote safe, quality settings to foster healthy child development for young children from birth through preschool-age.  For many of the 11 million young children in child care every week, child care is their early learning setting.  As Congress considers an early learning vision for America, fixing child care should be the cornerstone.

Parents need child care in order to work and a strong economy depends on working parents.  At the same time, parents cannot be expected to monitor child care settings while they are at work.  Any early learning plan needs to build out by fixing child care so that all children are in quality settings, which begins with safety.  Parents want it; children need it.  It’s time to fix child care.

Join us by calling on Congress to fix child care as part of any early learning plan to be considered.

Virginia County Looks to Weaken Child Care!

Last week a front page story in the Washington Post shared the tragic death of 3-month-old Camden Lafkin 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).

Arlington County in Virginia has stronger protections for children in child care than the state requires.  Instead of leaving children to chance until 6 or more children are in the home, Arlington County requires all providers who care for 4 or more children to obtain a child care license.  Individuals who wish to care for one to three children in their home must follow county child care standards for licensed programs (a local permitting requirement).  These smaller homes must follow the same rules. If they are found out of compliance, they have 10 days to address any violations or they are assessed penalties and required to close.

This means that in Arlington County, all family child care home providers are subject to background checks, minimum health and safety protections for children, and inspections.

For child care centers, Arlington County requires all centers to be licensed (i.e., no exemptions for centers affiliated with religious organizations—the setting of the children is paramount, not the sponsor of the center).  Arlington County has more professional requirements for child care center directors compared to state requirements. The county also requires more minimum education for child care center teachers than the state requires.  Further promoting quality child care, Arlington County requires a lower child:staff ratio to promote safety and more effective interaction between staff and children compared to the state and limits the size of each group within each classroom. The state of Virginia has no group size restrictions. Click here for a side by side comparison of Arlington County requirements versus the state of Virginia.

For 40 years, Arlington County has been looking out for the safety of children. This week, we learned the county board is recommending the closure of the Arlington County Office of Child Care and repeal of the Arlington County child care regulations, which would save $250,000.  The effect of this would be for child care in Arlington County to revert back to state standards.

Child Care Aware® of America’s state licensing reports grade the state of Virginia as a “D” with regard to child care centers and an “F” with regard to family child care homes.  Newspaper stories have relayed the safety issues leading to child tragedies across the state.

  • Baby Dylan Cummings died in a license-exempt program in Norfolk.
  • Baby Camden Lafkin died in a child care program in rural Shanandoah.
  • Baby Teagan Sample died in a child care program in Bristow.
  • A provider in Manassas was charged with endangering children in an unlicensed program where six infants were cared for by one provider without a license.
  • Several newspaper stories in the past year have detailed sexual abuses against children by other adults living in the home of child care providers.

It is time for state policymakers to protect children in child care.  Overall, child care licensing in Virginia needs to have stronger protections for children.  It is disappointing and troubling that Arlington County would abandon its strong stance for child protection and say that the state law is enough.  The state law is weak at best.  No doubt, difficult decisions need to be made with regard to the county budget. But, shouldn’t the safety of children be a top priority?  What is a child’s life worth?  Leaving children to chance is not worth the gamble. State and county policy should do better for families.

Take Action Today and let the Arlington County Board know child care safety is important!

Virginia Needs an Overhaul of State Child Care Laws

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.

Are Children Safe? It’s time to ask. It’s time to act.

Last week, for the fifth year, Rep. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) in Missouri introduced a bill to save children’s lives.   The bill is called “Nathan’s Law,” after a 3-month-old infant in Missouri who died in a child care program.

What’s the issue?  Under Missouri law, a child care license is not required until four children are cared for in the home but some children are exempt from the count – the child care provider’s children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  What this means is that there could be far more than four children in the home without a license.

What’s the big deal?  Shelley Blecha, Nathan’s mom, tells a story no parent wants to hear.  She received a call from the provider, “come to the day care right away, your baby’s not breathing.”   She kept thinking, “please let him be ok, please let him be ok.”  But, baby Nathan died.

What happened? A series of problems occurred in the case of the Blecha family:

(1)    On the day that Nathan died, the provider was caring for 10 children (with no license).

(2)    Baby Nathan was put down for a nap in a portable crib – face down where he asphyxiated against the plastic pad in the bottom of the crib.

  • Had Nathan been in licensed care, the provider would have been required to put infants to sleep on their back, which studies show reduce the risk of suffocation.
  • Had the provider been licensed, she might have had some minimum training to look to ensure that the crib sheet fit snugly over the crib pad (to safeguard against suffocation).

(3)    On the day that Nathan died, his 3-year-old brother and 8 other young children watched the crisis as paramedics rushed around the scene – the trauma unfolding before the eyes of terrified children.

A 2011 Post-Dispatch investigation found that 41 children, mostly infants, have died in unlicensed care over the last couple of years in Missouri.

A St. Louis today article from last week quotes the Missouri Family Network as saying that families have a right to care for their own children and their relatives in their own way.  We agree. But, when a child care provider takes children who are unrelated into her home,  the care of that child depends on the child care provider’s ability to care for all children (not just the unrelated ones).

The fact of the matter is that no child is invisible.  All children count even if the state looks the other way and doesn’t require some children to be counted.   If there were an emergency – maybe a fire that requires evacuation – all children need to be safely evacuated – even the invisible ones.  But, how many children, particularly infants and young toddlers, can be cared for safely by one person?  How many can be evacuated safely in times of emergency by one adult?  How many can be safely supervised to guard against potentially tragic accidents?

Most child care providers love children and they want to care for them, help them grow, and watch them develop. They want children to be safe. They want to provide a nurturing environment.  As with all of us, people don’t know what they don’t know. The more children in care, the greater the likelihood that the unthinkable might happen.

What’s the purpose of licensing? For most states, it’s an opportunity for child care providers to learn about the latest in child safety (the “Back to Sleep” campaign recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics is just one example).  It’s an opportunity for some training in CPR and in some states – activities to promote child development.  Child care providers often become “like a member of the family.”  They want what’s best for children and think of them like their own.  But, again, people may mean well, but don’t know what they don’t know.

It’s time for Missouri to put the needs of children first.

  • How many children can be safely cared for by one provider?  (Taking into consideration that emergencies could happen);
  • Impose stiff fines against illegal providers (those caring for more than the legal limit without a license).  The fine has to be high enough to act as a deterrent to risking the life of a child.

The fact that Rep. Schupp’s bill has died four times speaks to the controversy surrounding the issue. It’s time for a national conversation that puts the safety and well-being of children first. This is not about “provider rights.”  This is about the rights of children, including infants, to be safe in child care.

Children should not be left to chance. It’s time for Missouri to pass Nathan’s Law.  How many children does your state allow to be cared for by one adult before a license is required?  Is there an overall cap on the number of children that can be cared for – whether related or not?  It’s time to ask. And, it’s time to act.  Children’s lives depend on it.

Click here to see a video of Shelley Blecha telling her story.

Affordable, Quality Child Care Campaign

Child Care Aware® of America’s Affordable, Quality Child Care Campaign

We’re building a nationwide movement, a campaign to expand access to affordable, quality child care.  Every week, nearly 11 million children are in some type of child care setting – on average for about 35 hours.  Our studies show that the quality of child care varies greatly, not just between states but also within states – among different types of child care settings.  Children should be safe while their parents work.  Child care should offer an environment that promotes the healthy development of children.  Policymakers at the state and federal levels call for all children to start school ready to learn. They call for reducing the achievement gap among low income and other children as well as between children of different races. They call for strategies to better meet the challenges faced by children with special needs.  Most also call for increasing the high school graduation rate.

All of these goals have merit.  But, to reach them, we simply can’t ignore a child’s earliest years and the settings young children are in.  There is no magic wand to reduce the achievement gap and increase high school graduation rates.  However, we can strengthen child care settings to ensure that more children start school ready to succeed.

The cost of child care is unaffordable for most families.  If we are going to strengthen the quality of care, we need to design a better system to finance child care in this country.

Below are the top 10 reasons to join our movement.  Any one of them alone is enough to unite. But, together, they paint a picture policymakers can no longer ignore.  Join us and together we can make a difference!

Top 10 List

1)      The annual cost of center-based infant care exceeds the cost of college in 36 states.

2)      Eight states license or regulate child care without first conducting an on-site inspection.

3)      Only 13 states require comprehensive background checks on staff hired to work in a child care center.  A comprehensive background check includes a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check of the child abuse registry and a check of the sex offender registry.

4)      Only 11 states require a comprehensive background check on family child care home providers before granting a license.

5)      Only 33 states meet all 10 health and safety standards in child care centers recommended by pediatric experts. Only 15 states meet them for family child care homes.

6)      Fewer than half the states require child care providers to have training in early childhood development.  In fact, training requirements vary greatly among the states and most states have weak minimum training and education requirements for child care providers.

7)      Many states do not require child care providers to have a written emergency plan – either to evacuate when necessary or shelter-in-place (or “lock-down”) in emergencies.

8)      Many states do not conduct routine inspections of child care programs. In fact, California inspects child care centers only once every 5 years. Montana and Iowa inspect family child care homes only once every 5 years; Pennsylvania once every 6 years.  Michigan only inspects family child care homes once every 10 years!

9)      Only one out of every six children eligible for a child care subsidy receives assistance. And, nearly one-fifth of those children (about 322,000) are in unlicensed care (which has no training required and no minimum health and safety protections for children).

10)   Eight states do not license small family child care homes (i.e, providers do not need a license until more than six children are cared for in the home).  In South Dakota, 12 children can be cared for in a home before a license is required with the 13th child.

It’s time for Members of Congress and State lawmakers to hear your voice. Join with us!  If you  have not yet signed up for Child Care Aware® Parent Network to receive our newsletters and connect with others in your state who want to make a difference, sign up today!

Safe Child Care: Violence Prevention

Nearly 11 million children under age 5 are in some type of child care setting every week – on average for 35 hours.  The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, is a reminder that we need to review our nation’s child care policies and practices to ensure that children are safe in child care settings.

  • Emergency Plans:  Does your child care provider have an emergency plan, which includes some type of shelter-in-place or “lock-down” procedure in case a violent or unauthorized intruder tries to gain entry?  Currently, only 15 states require such plans for child care centers.  For family child care homes, does your provider keep outside doors locked when caring for children?
  • Access to Guns:  Are guns allowed in your child care program? If so, are they required to be stored unloaded and locked away from children with ammunition stored separately?  Currently, 26 states prohibit guns in child care centers. Another 13 states require controlled access (i.e., guns must be stored in a locked cabinet or stored unloaded with ammunition in a different location), and 12 states have no regulation pertaining to firearms in child care centers.  With regard to family child care homes, 4 states prohibit guns, 41 states have controlled access, and 6 states have no regulation pertaining to guns in such homes.

The Newtown, Connecticut tragedy is also a reminder that the early years in a child’s life are critical to healthy development (including a child’s social and emotional development).  One key component to community safety is the availability and provision of mental health services, even in the youngest years. The early identification of those who could benefit from early intervention services (particularly mental health services) could make a difference in their future overall development, with life-long consequences. There is still much we do not know about events and conditions that might have spurred the violence in Newtown, but what we do know is that child care settings should be safe and that early intervention in children’s lives, especially those with challenges, can make a difference.

  • Early childhood developmental screening:  Does your state require early screening of children before entry into elementary school to see if they could benefit from early intervention?  (For example, is their vision ok? Is their hearing ok? Is their speech developing appropriately? Are there any indications of a developmental delay or behaviors that would indicate the need for mental health services)?
  • Training for Child Care Providers:  Does your state require that child care providers have education or training in early childhood development?  Or, training in meeting the needs of children after a traumatic event?
  • Background Checks for Child Care Providers: Does your state require a comprehensive background check for staff in child care centers and those who want to operate a child care program in their home?  A comprehensive check includes a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check of the child abuse registry and a check of the sex offender registry.  Only 9 states currently require a comprehensive check for both employment in centers and family child care home licensing.  Screening out those with a violent history helps ensure that children are safe in child care.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which sets the framework for state child care laws, does not require that any of these issues be addressed.  As a result, state laws to protect children while they are in child care vary greatly.

Last month,  President Obama asked Vice President Biden to lead an Administration initiative to reduce gun violence in our communities. The Vice President asked for recommendations from agencies throughout the Administration, the advocacy and research community, and others.  Likely there will be some discussion about the safety of children in schools.  Any initiative to promote the safety of children should include measures to ensure that children in child care are safe.  Child care settings should not exist in a separate silo.

To read Child Care Aware® of America’s recommendations to the Vice President, click here.  In related news, on Friday, House Democrats formed a legislative task force to make recommendations for Congress to consider.  As we learn more, we will let you know.

If you have policy ideas to promote children’s safety and healthy development in child care settings, please share them with us!  Email Grace.Reef@usa.childcareaware.org and we will incorporate them into our recommendations for Congress.

Progress Toward Quality Child Care

The Year in Review

Child Care Aware®of America’s quality child care campaign kicks off another year today on the journey for affordable, safe, quality child care for all children.  How are we doing? What markers have we achieved to date?

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the federal law that allocates funds to states to help families afford child care and to assist states in improving the quality of child care, marked another year without reauthorization (the enactment of legislation that reviews current law and makes improvements where necessary).  It’s been 16 years since the last reauthorization. That’s too long. Hopefully, 2013 will ring the reauthorization bell.  Noteworthy for sure:  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families held three child care hearings in the 112th Congress:

  • (July 2012) CCDBG Reauthorization: Helping to Meet the Child Care Needs of American Families. You can watch the webcast and read the testimony here.
  • (September 2011) Examining Quality and Safety in Child Care: Giving Working Families Security, Confidence and Peace of Mind. You can watch the webcast and read the testimony here.
  • (June 2011) Getting the Most Bang for the Buck: Quality Early Education and Care. You can watch the webcast and read the testimony here.

Hearings lay the groundwork for reauthorization.  Thank you Senate HELP Committee Senators and staff for the work that you do.  Thank you also to the many parents, advocates, child care providers, and early childhood experts for your dedication and commitment to quality child care that helped make Senate hearings possible in our nation’s capital.

Short of national legislation, much progress has been made throughout the states.  Child Care Aware® of America has released six child care licensing studies since 2007.  The “We Can Do Better” series, which scores and ranks states based on their state child care center laws and regulations, was first released in March of 2007 and updated in 2009 and 2011. The report will be updated again in April of 2013. The “Leaving Children to Chance” series, which scores and ranks states based on their state small family child care home laws and regulations, was first released in March of 2008 and updated in 2010 and 2012. In reviewing our most recent reports with the initial reports when we first began on this journey, it is clear that states are making strides to improve the quality of child care.

  • Background Checks:  Screening out those who have a violent history of offenses (such as assault and battery, sex offenses, homicide, etc.) is key to promoting the safety of children in child care.  When we began our studies, only a handful of states required a comprehensive background check: a check of federal and state records using fingerprints, a check of the state child abuse registry and a check of the sex offender registry. Today, 13 states require a comprehensive background check for those working in child care centers (AK, CO, HI, ID, IL, MS, NH, NJ, NC, SC, SD, TN and WA).  In addition, 11 states require a comprehensive background check for small family child care home providers (AK, CO, FL, HI, IL, NH, NC, SC, TN, WA and WV).
  • Health & Safety Requirements: When we began looking at state health and safety requirements for child care, only 8 states met each of 10 health and safety requirements recommended by pediatric experts. Today, 33 states met all 10 health and safety standards recommended by pediatric experts for child care centers.  Also notable for child care centers, an additional 10 states met 9 of 10 health and safety standards. Far fewer, but still progress when measured against our first report, 15 states met all 10 health and safety standards recommended by pediatric experts for small family child care homes. Also notable for small family child care homes, 34 states met 9 of 10 health standards and 32 states met 9 of 10 safety standards.
  • Child Development: When we began looking at state required activities compared to developmental domains (i.e., social, emotional, physical, language/literacy, cognitive and cultural domains), only 13 states required activities in child care centers within each of the domains; 10 states had no requirements for activities in child care centers related to developmental domains. Today, 22 states require activities in child care centers within all 6 developmental domains; 3 states have no required activities in child care centers related to developmental domains (AL, CA, ID).  For small family child care homes, today 8 states require activities in all developmental domains (AZ, DE, GA, KS, MI, TN, WA and WV).
  • Inspections: When we began looking at state monitoring or oversight practices, only a handful of states conducted regular inspections and few posted inspection results on the internet for easy parent access. Today, 5 states conduct inspections of child care centers less than once per year (AL, CA, ID, MN, and VT).  Progress has been made but still too many states – 24 – conduct inspections of small family child care homes less than once per year. More than half the states post inspection reports on the internet so that parents can make informed decisions when selecting child care.

To review a table of progress made against key benchmarks on the roadmap for quality child care, click here.

Progress has been made. Numerous states have made important improvements to ensure that children are safe and in child care settings that promote their healthy development. However, much work remains at the national level to enact CCDBG reauthorization and within the states.

Thank you state child care administrators, parents, advocates, child care providers, child care experts and all those who work every day to ensure that progress toward quality child care is being made. We’re on the road, we’ve had some success.

With the start of 2013, our campaign continues. Keep up the good work. Progress can’t be made without you – and, together we can make a difference.  Nearly 11 million children in child care are depending upon you. Make 2013 a banner year!

Parents Want Affordable, Quality Child Care!

Child Care Aware® of America is partnering with Parents Magazine to urge Congress to focus on the child care crisis. Click here to see the article in the December issue of Parents. The federal law that allocates funds to states for child care is the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). It has very few rules to ensure that children are safe in child care and that the settings that children are in promote their healthy development.  The law has not been updated since 1996.

Did you know?

  • Child care laws vary by state. Most states fail to earn a passing grade on even the most basic of health and safety protections for children according to state licensing reports by Child Care Aware® of America.
  • CCDBG does not require background checks for child care providers.
  • CCDBG does not require minimum training for child care providers.
  • CCDBG does not require inspections of child care programs.

Our nation-wide parent polling over the last several years shows that the top two concerns that parents have about child care are: quality and affordability.

It’s time to let Congress know that child care is important to working parents. You can help make a difference by urging your Members of Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the law. This should be a bipartisan issue: As Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) told the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families earlier this year, “It is absolutely crucial that we make a national commitment that safe and quality child care is available everywhere.”

Taking action couldn’t be easier! Simply click here to visit our action center to send an email to your Members of Congress today. Child care should be safe. It should be affordable. It should promote the healthy development of children so that one day they start school ready to learn!

Child Care Training Can Save Lives!

This week, Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles Poston dismissed a felony charge of child cruelty against a child care director who ran a program where 7-week-old Dylan Cummings died in May of 2010.  What happened? What’s the issue?

Like “A Tale of Two Cities,” a Charles Dickens’ novel, this is a story of two types of child care in Virginia: licensed care and what’s called “religiously exempted child day care centers.”  But, this isn’t a Charles Dickens’ novel, it’s real life. And, in this story, a baby died.

Betsy Cummings of Norfolk learned as a new mother to never lay her baby down to sleep on his stomach. She learned to place him to sleep on his back to reduce the likelihood of SIDS — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  She enrolled her son in the Little Eagles Day Care program affiliated with the Bethel Temple Church of Deliverance, but she didn’t know that the state had different rules for licensed care compared to church run care. After returning to work for only one week, she received the call no parent wants.  There was an incident at the child care center and she needed to come immediately. When she arrived, the paramedics told her that her baby was dead.

Court records show that Dylan was found unresponsive in the nap room after being placed to sleep on his stomach. The medical examiner’s report found that he was otherwise healthy and determined the cause of death as SIDS.  According to the Centers for Disease Control  (CDC),  “even when a thorough investigation is conducted, it may be difficult to separate SIDS from other types of sudden unexpected infant deaths, especially accidental suffocation in bed.”

Did Dylan die of SIDS or did he suffocate when placed to sleep on his stomach? We don’t know. But, we do know that the state of Virginia has tried to pre-empt such deaths in child care licensed by the state.  In both VA licensed child care centers and family child care homes, babies are required to be put to sleep on their backs.  There are specific monitoring and supervision requirements.  There are specific annual training requirements: 16 hours for staff in centers and 14 hours (increasing to 16 hours in July of 2013) for family child care home providers.  But, in license-exempt centers sponsored by religious organizations, there are no training requirements. There are no requirements to place infants to sleep on their backs.

According to a Norfolk area newspaper article, state social service workers investigated the Little Eagles center after Dylan’s death and cited the program for multiple violations (of the skeletal rules under which license-exempt religious centers operate).  The violations included not having enough staff to care for infants in the center. The program has since closed.

Judge Poston said that the prosecutor failed to show that the child care director was intentionally negligent.  This is not the first time for such a conclusion.  Earlier this year, Juan Carlos Cardenas, a 22-month-old toddler, drowned in a church baptismal at an unlicensed child care center run by Praise Fellowship Assembly of God Church in Indiana. Like the case with Dylan Cummings, the center was exempt from licensing because it was a church sponsored program and was subject to a subset of broad rules, not the specific licensing rules that protect children. In the case of Juan Carlos, the staff lost track of him.  He somehow walked away from his peers, through 2 unlocked doors, up a flight of steps, and drowned in the baptismal pool in the sanctuary.  Similar to the case with Dylan Cummings, a state prosecutor didn’t think there was criminal intent.

Putting aside criminal intent, which courts will decide, what’s clear is that there are two standards: a licensing standard intended to protect the safety of children and a lower standard that does not.  Training of child care providers is critically important, yet these centers were not required to follow licensing standards with regard to training (including safe sleep practices in the case of baby Dylan).  It is time to ensure that all children in child care are safe.  This is not about religion. It is not about Sunday school.  It is about settings where people are paid to care for unrelated children.  Is there any compelling reason why children should be less safe in some centers than others? 

There shouldn’t be two sets of standards. It just doesn’t make sense. And, in the cases of Dylan Cummings and Juan Carlos Cardenas, they are dead.  They died in the care of child care providers who operated centers exempt from licensing protections for children.  Had the centers in which they were enrolled been required to follow licensing standards, there’s a good chance both children would still be alive.  But, we’ll never know.  What we do know, is that children in such centers can be better protected.  Hopefully, this is a wake-up call for states like Virginia and Indiana that have two sets of standards. There are lives to be protected. 

At a minimum, training requirements should be the same for all centers, regardless of their location or sponsorship. Training makes a difference. Training can save lives.  Send an email to your Members of Congress today to require minimum training for child care providers as part of the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant.