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.