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.

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.

Early Learning is an Economic Development Strategy

This week in Washington, President Obama shared his vision for strengthening early learning throughout America.  In the President’s State of the Union address and also in a visit to a preschool program in Decatur, Georgia, the President talked about the importance of early learning settings and the reality that there is a direct relationship between early learning settings and school readiness, school performance, and increasing high school graduation rates.  Ultimately, this leads to stronger families, better paying jobs, and stronger communities.

Early Learning is an Economic Development Strategy.  We can talk about the need to strengthen the economy and the need for a long-term economic development strategy all we want. The current unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.  Unemployment has exceeded 5 percent since 2008 – 5 years of unemployment ranging from 7.8 percent in 2009 to a high of nearly 10 percent in 2010 back to around 8 percent today.  The fact is, while the economy is modestly improving, it’s still not as strong as we need it to be for the long-term growth of this nation.

What can we do to help promote economic growth and prosperity?  The strength of the workforce is directly related to the strength of the economy and the resilience of communities.  We can start with a better economic development strategy from birth.   We can make sure that our future workforce has the foundation they need for success in school and beyond.  Where does that start? Not in the elementary school years.   As every parent knows, early learning starts at birth. It’s time as a nation that we embrace that vision and understand the direct connection between a child’s earliest years, their school success, and the long-term strength of our economy.

The President’s early learning plan announced this week is an economic development strategy for every state.  The President’s plan is outlined in a White House fact sheet posted this week.

High Quality Preschool for Every Child:

  • Cost Sharing for preschool in all 50 states
  • For 4-year-old children at 200 percent  of poverty or below
  • Sliding fee scale for families with higher income at state option
  • Quality benchmarks to ensure accountable investments
    • State level standards for early learning
    • Qualified teachers in every classroom paid on par with public school teachers
    • Comprehensive data and assessment systems
    • Rigorous curriculum with health and related services
    • Small class sizes and low adult child ratios
    • Effective evaluation and review

Fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in high quality preschool programs.  For poor children who need it the most, the lack of access to a great preschool education can affect their whole lives.

Only 6 out of 10 kindergarten students have access to full day programs. States can use funding to extend part-day kindergarten to full-day once their goals to reach children below 200 percent of poverty are met.

Quality Early Learning Settings for Our Youngest Children:

  • New Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships
  • Funds allocated based on competitive grants
  • Expands the supply of quality child care to children from birth through age three

The fact is that too many children today do not have access to quality child care. State laws vary greatly, not just with regard to state preschool initiatives but also with regard to state child care programs and the training and education of the early childhood workforce. The President’s plan will challenge states and communities to do their best for children so that children can do their best when they enter school.

Extending and Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting

  • Expanding home visiting models that work
  • Nurses, social workers, and other professionals to work with at-risk families in their homes
  • Connecting families to assistance that affects a child’s health, development and ability to learn.

Home visiting programs have been successful in improving the lives of families with young children leaving long-lasting effects on the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children.

The Roadmap from Here:

We don’t know a lot of details, but we know the framework.  And, it’s exciting!  The path to achieve the President’s agenda will need to be worked out between Congress and the Administration.  Exactly how much detail will be in legislation and how much will be subject to state innovation through applications to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education we don’t know at this point.

It is time for everyone to start thinking about how we can achieve this early learning vision. We invite you to think about this over the next several weeks and send us your thoughts, comment on this blog. It’s important for us all to be engaged as policy is shaped.  What works in your community to promote quality child care for young children? What ideas do you have?  What do you think are key points to be addressed?  We have a historic opportunity. Let’s not let partisan politics get in the way.  Affordable, quality child care, quality preschool, and ultimately children’s school success should not be partisan issues.  Join us by telling Congress today that it’s time for a comprehensive birth through kindergarten strategy for our children!  Our nation’s economic development depends on it.

To take action, click here to visit our action center!

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.