ARLINGTON, VA - Today, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) issued an appeal to Governors and state legislators to better protect the safety, and the very lives, of young children by strengthening child care regulations and oversight. After a rash of deaths in child care, NACCRRA is also calling on Congress to reauthorize and strengthen safety requirements in the Child Care and Development Block Grant, legislation that sets minimum rules states must follow to receive federal child care funds.
"For the nearly $11 billion invested in child care each year by the federal government, we should expect more of states," says Linda K. Smith, Executive Director of NACCRRA. "If states won't do what is right, then Congress needs to intervene and force the issue in the interest of public safety."
Smith points to 10 child deaths in the past six months alone, all related to poor oversight of child care programs and lack of caregiver training. Although preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome is a very basic caregiver skill, it is suspected as the cause of the deaths in home-based child care programs of a 5-month-old baby in Tampa, Fla., and an 11-month-old in St. Louis, Mo.
A child care center in Maine was found to be negligent in the drowning of a 3-year-old in a swimming pool, and in High Point, N.C., an 8-year-old was killed and other children injured while riding un-restrained in a car driven by a home-based child care provider.
In Columbia, S.C., a 10-month-old died after child care center staff left him for seven hours in a van. State regulators had cited this center at least 61 times since 1998, yet tried to close it only twice; both times, the operator appealed and won back his license. Also in Columbia, an illegally-operating home-based provider was recently charged with three counts of homicide by child abuse in the deaths of three different children between 1998 and 2007. The home was only ordered to be closed down after the third death occurred in May.
Deaths have also occurred this year in child care programs in Iowa, N.Y., Okla. and Tenn., and last year in states including Calif., Colo., Utah, Texas and Va., collectively suggesting widespread, serious flaws in the child care licensing and oversight system. As reflected in the recent We Can Do Better: NACCRRA's Ranking of State Child Care Center Standards and Oversight, out of 150 possible points, the average state score was a dismal 70 points.
NACCRRA calls on every state to better protect children by requiring that anyone paid to care for one or more children unrelated to him/her be licensed; currently, only 10 states do so. NACCRRA also urges states to require that all caregivers obtain training in such basics as first-aid/CPR, basic health and safety practices, and child development, guidance and discipline before caring for children. Currently, child abuse and neglect prevention training is required of child care center staff in less than half of all states. Only 12 states require any pre-service qualifications in early childhood education of caregivers in child care centers, and only nine require this of those in small family child care homes. In 21 states, there is no minimum educational requirement (not even a high school degree) for child care teachers.
A meager six states presently meet the nationally-recommended caseload of 50 child care programs per licensing staff. In fact, in 21 states, each licensing inspector is charged with monitoring more than 140 child care programs. Such large caseloads make it next to impossible for states to effectively ensure that child care programs are meeting standards, and held accountable if they are not.
In addition to requiring weak standards and not adequately guaranteeing that even these are met, states fall short in communicating important information with parents. In the majority of states, accessing child care program inspection and complaint reports - information parents need to determine the quality of programs and make informed decisions - is incredibly difficult. This information should be easily accessible online, but in reality, only 15 states post any of these details on the Internet. To further complicate matters, a national poll conducted by NACCRRA indicated that the overwhelming majority of parents logically assume that standards are in place to ensure children's safety.
Parents can play a powerful role in protecting their children by telling their Governors that they expect the standards and oversight that their children deserve, and by thoroughly researching child care programs before choosing one. NACCRRA and its member Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies, located in most communities, offer parents many free resources to help them make these important decisions.
To learn more about NACCRRA's efforts to protect the safety of our nation's children, and to access its parent resources, visit www.naccrra.org. To find your local CCR&R, visit NACCRRA's Child Care Aware website at www.childcareaware.org.