May 31, 2013

Feds Call for National Standards for Child Care Facilities

Earlier this month, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced stringent new health and safety standards for any child-care facility that receives government funding.

As reported in the Washington Post, reports of injuries and deaths in child-care facilities prompted the action. HHS officials said the new regulations also were developed because of emerging science on how critical the early years are for brain development and future success.

The regulations are meant to supersede individual state measures that critics claim are too lax and endanger children. As many as 1 in 5 children who receive the child-care subsidy, according to The Post, are in unlicensed and unregulated facilities that have no health and safety requirements.

The regulations will require workers in all subsidized child-care centers and homes to be trained in first-aid procedures, such as CPR, and safe sleeping practices. They demand quality-rating systems parents can access, and universal background and fingerprint checks of child-care workers. They also impose tough standards for monitoring and unannounced inspections to ensure compliance.

It has been 15 years since child-care rules were updated.

The regulations apply only to the 513,000 child-care centers and family homes that accept subsidies for the 1.6 million children who receive them through the federal Child Care and Development Fund, which expired in 2002. The HHS announcement, the paper said, was a surprise to Congressional representatives, including the bipartisan group of senators who have been negotiating a bill to reauthorize the child-care fund.

Nothing the feds do, it seems, can be devoid of politics. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said that she appreciates the administration’s efforts, but that regulations are not enough. She wants Congress to reauthorize a child-care subsidy program “that not only addresses health and safety standards, but also improves the quality of our nation’s child-care programs.”

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said, “The latest announcement by HHS is yet another effort to usurp Congress and move forward with the administration’s preferred policies.”

Many day-care centers in the U.S., The Post notes, are poorly run and often unsafe. And child care remains unaffordable for many people.

Current federal health and standards require only that:

  • subsidized providers prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases;

  • building and physical premises are safe;

  • providers have minimum health and safety training.

Beyond that, states pretty much impose whatever standards they wish. In South Dakota, for example, a family home child-care provider may care for as many as 12 children without a license or meeting any standards. In Virginia, that number is five. In Maryland and the District of Columbia, it’s one.

Many states, according to The Post, require only state, not federal, background checks of providers. That’s the standard in Virginia, where one infant died and only the commonwealth attorney’s investigation into the unlicensed family care provider’s home uncovered the fact that that the provider had several aliases and previous felony charges.

Some states exempt child-care centers run by religious organizations from meeting health and safety licensing standards. In Virginia, a 7-week-old boy was left for two hours in a small, overheated utility room with 14 other infants on a single foam pad while the caretaker ate lunch in another room. The baby died. Only one person at the facility, a janitor, had been trained to perform CPR.

Those child-care workers were charged with negligent homicide, but a judge dismissed the charges because of the center’s religious affiliation.

HHS officials said the proposed regulations couldn’t address all child-care ills; the $5 billion the government spends covers only about 18 in 100 low-income children who are eligible for the subsidy. But it’s a start.

If you want to know more about the sorry state of child care in America, link here to a recent investigative story in the New Republic. Some of its substantiated conclusions:

1. Most American day care centers are rated “fair” or “poor.”
2. Child-care workers are often poorly paid and minimally trained.
3. State regulators don’t have enough people to inspect facilities regularly — and often face pressure to keep appalling centers open anyway.
4. Child care remains extremely expensive for many families.
5. Governments in other countries spent a lot more on child care.

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May 2, 2010

Lead Poisoning Still a Reality for Children Today

Since lead paint was banned in 1978, the number of children with elevated lead levels has decreased so much that at one point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was confident that this environmental hazard would be eliminated by 2010. However, health officials no longer think they can meet that goal this year because lead hazards are still present in houses built before the lead paint ban, many of which are in “poor urban pockets,” says Mireya Navarro of the New York Times.

Although the 1978 law banned the use of lead paint, local laws and enforcement have yet to catch up with their own laws requiring inspections and cleanup of houses built before 1978. Dr. Mary Jean Brown, chief of the lead poisoning prevention branch at the CDC, said that there are still jurisdictions that do not have laws requiring landlords to check for lead-based paint. Even in places that do have such laws, landlords are not always compliant – in a survey done from 2007 to 2009 in Brooklyn, New York, “59 percent of tenants reported that their landlords had not followed any of the law’s provisions,” Navarro reported in the NY Times article.

In addition to experts’ recommendation of strengthening local laws and enforcement, the EPA implemented a regulation in April, 2010, that “requires renovation and remodeling contractors to be certified in techniques for containing lead dust stirred up during work” in buildings constructed before 1978.

Elevated lead levels in young children, especially those under 6, can “cause irreversible impairment intelligence quotient, motor skills and behavior,” says Dr. John Rosen, who founded a lead prevention program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

In Washington, D.C., lead safety laws impose strict liability on landlords who know they are renting to families with children under eight years old. However, many landlords still are lax about cleaning up apartments unless families complain loud and often. In our law firm's work in representing such families, we find that landlords don't take their obligations seriously until they are taken to court.

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November 21, 2007

More on Lead Poisoning: Even Small Amounts of Lead Linked To Reduced IQ

A newly-released study, done over the course of six years by researchers at Cornell University, finds that even small amounts of lead in children's blood (below CDC guidelines for acceptable levels) make reduced IQ much more likely. This correlation holds true even when other factors that affect IQ--such as other environmental factors or genetics--are accounted for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the maximum allowable blood-lead level is 10 micrograms per deciliter. But the new Cornell study focused on kids with between 0 and 10 micrograms per deciliter, and found that those in the 0-5 range had average IQs of about five points higher than those in the 5-10 range. The unavoidable conclusion is that even when lead poisoning is less than what the CDC deems harmful, it can still have significant negative effects on children's developing brains.

Those who are poor are at greater risk for lead poisoning, as lead is often found in the paint of old or poorly-maintained buildings. Lead poisoning has been in the news lately, because of the Mattel recall and other toy safety issues. This very morning, New York State recalled children's jewelry from stores including Michael's and Big Lots because they contained hazardous levels of lead. It is important to remember that houses are the most common source of lead-related brain damage.

The researchers involved in this study had previously published another, similar study in 2003. They found then, as they did again now, that blood-lead levels are related "inversely and significantly" to IQ. Clearly, this is a serious problem that needs to be recognized and addressed.

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August 19, 2007

Washington DC Landlords Sued Over Lead Paint

Amidst all the press about Mattel's toy recall and lead paint in toys, there is a grim reminder in today's Washington Post about the most common source of lead poisoning: paint in houses. The Washington DC attorney general has finished filing cases against twelve DC landlords whose buildings were found, after testing, to have hazardous levels of lead-based paint and who did not comply with instructions to remove this dangerous material.

Doctors, after running blood test on children under 8 who lived in or frequently visited these buildings, found that the children had elevated levels of lead. In children this young, lead exposure can have permanent consequences for mental development and abilities. Thankfully the DC attorney general recognizes this and is pursuing these cases.

For more information, here is a list on the effects and symptoms of lead poisoning in young children.

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