Learning from the Military Child Care System

It’s Memorial Day Weekend and a time to celebrate and remember those who died in service to our country – over a million men and women who have died since the Civil War protecting our people and democratic values – not “democratic” as in political party, but the big “D” – Democracy – a government in which power is vested in the people – a representative democracy with free elections to affect nationwide policies.

We have so much to learn from the military and how they take care of their families. Just one example, out of many, can be seen in the system of child care for children in military families compared to the system of child care for children in non-military families.

Last month, Child Care Aware® of America released “We Can Do Better: 2013 Update,” the 7th in a series of licensing reports scoring and ranking the states based on state child care center licensing policies and oversight.  According to the report, states averaged a score of 92 out of 150, a grade of 61 percent – very close to a failing grade. The Department of Defense (DoD) child care system was scored and ranked as well, since it is a system analogous to a state system serving many children throughout the country. The DoD child care system topped the list, outscoring all the state systems, with a strong framework based on safety and child development. How did the remainder of the states fare? The top 10 states earned a “C”, another 21 earned a “D,” and the remaining 20 states failed.

A U.S. Senate Committee hearing in 2011 compared the Military Child Care Act (MCCA), which governs the child care policies set by DOD with the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – however, individual state policies vary greatly.  Both acts have parental choice in child care settings as a centerpiece. Both acts were passed by Congress to respond to an increase in working women and a greater need to make child care more affordable for working families. But, that is about all the two laws have in common.

The Department of Defense has developed a system of quality child care. Nearly 100 percent of child care centers overseen by the military are nationally accredited compared to less than 8 percent of child care centers in civilian communities.  The military child care system has minimum protections for children, parents can choose from an array of settings that all meet these minimum protections, and there is accountability for how DoD child care funds are spent.

In contrast, CCDBG has led to a patchwork array of child care settings under different laws in every state. There is no system. There are no minimum protections for children. Parents can choose licensed or unlicensed care. There is little accountability for how public dollars are spent.

The MCCA requires a comprehensive background check (fingerprints against criminal records) for child care providers. In contrast, CCDBG does not require a background check. Do background checks matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Elly Lafkin, whose baby died in a child care program a year ago. A police investigation revealed a history of criminal offenses, which the provider had committed under various aliases, but Elly and her husband didn’t know because Virginia doesn’t require a fingerprint check so parents aren’t aware of offenses an individual with various aliases has committed.

The MCCA requires the Secretary of Defense to establish a uniform training program for child care providers. The act requires, at a minimum, that training shall cover:

  • Early childhood development
  • Activities and disciplinary techniques appropriate to children of different ages
  • Child abuse prevention and detection
  • CPR and other emergency medical procedures

As a result, DoD policy establishes a minimum requirement of 40 hours of initial training either before a provider cares for children or early on once hired. Also, DoD requires 24 hours of annual training as follow-up and to reinforce initial learning.

In contrast, CCDBG has no minimum training requirement. State requirements vary greatly.  For child care centers,

  • Only 21 states require staff training in child development.
  • Only 34 states have safe sleep requirements for infants.
  • Only 9 states require all staff to learn CPR.
  • Only 15 states meet each of the 10 health and safety policies recommended by pediatric experts.

Think a requirement for provider training in safe sleep doesn’t matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Nathan Salomonis, whose baby died in a licensed child care center in California where there is no safe sleep requirement to protect infants.

The MCCA requires regular unannounced inspections of child care programs. In contrast, CCDBG has no inspection requirement.  Nine states conduct inspections of child care centers less often than once a year.  About half the states conduct inspections of family child care homes less frequently than once per year.

Think inspections don’t matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Vicky Dougherty, whose toddler son died in a defective crib in a child care program where potentially an inspection may have noted the problem and save her son’s life. But, in Pennsylvania, family child care homes are inspected only once every six years.

There are quality child care programs throughout the country. But, licensing laws vary greatly by state and CCDBG – the federal framework for state laws, contains no requirements for background checks or training for providers and no requirement for regular inspections.

CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years.  Earlier this month, HHS Secretary Sebelius announced new proposed rules for child care to better promote the safety and healthy development of children through existing regulatory authority.  If you think it’s time to provide minimum protections for children in child care, comment today on the regulations.gov  web page.  If you think it’s time for Congress to reauthorize CCDBG and better protect children in child care and promote quality child care programs, let your Members of Congress know by clicking here.

It is great news that our Democracy created child care systems for military and non-military children. But, now it’s time to fix the system for non-military children.  A Democratic society can and should do better for our families.

New HHS Rules Promoting Children’s Health & Safety in Child Care

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.

HHS Press Conference May 16, 2013

HHS Press Conference May 16, 2013

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.

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.

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!