State ranks 2nd for regulating home child care

Association looks at both rules and their enforcement

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Washington climbed from third to second place in the nation this year for program requirements and oversight of family home child care providers, according to a recent ranking by the National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies.

“These scores show the Department of Early Learning is invested in making sure kids are safe and healthy in child care,” said Kara Klotz, a department spokesperson.

The state received a score of 79 percent, the equivalent of a C+, on 16 benchmarks, including 11 program requirements and five oversight elements. Oklahoma was the only state that scored higher -- at 80 percent, equal to a B-. Oregon was 36th in the nation with a grade of 24 percent, or failing.

“Second in the nation is very good,” said Shari Mason, president of the Southwest Washington Family Child Care Association. “But a C+ doesn’t sound very good.”

Washington was No. 1 when graded solely on program requirements.

For instance, the state requires all providers to offer toys and materials and activities that are identified by research as helping with children’s development. That could include anything from reading to children to limiting time watching television. Providers have to meet 10 health and 10 safety requirements, such as performing appropriate hand washing and using soft ground cover underneath play equipment. They also are required to have regular communication with parents about children’s development and progress.

In the area of safety, Washington ranked third in the nation. The state received high marks for requiring background checks with fingerprints of all providers, licenses for all homes where one or more unrelated children are cared for, unannounced routine and complaint-prompted inspections and hiring only licensing staff with a bachelor’s degree or high in early childhood education or a related field.

Additional points were given for the state’s online Child Care Check system, https://apps.del.wa.gov/check/CheckSearch.aspx, where parents can view complaints against and violations by family child care homes.

The state lost points for not meeting the association’s standards in four areas. The association recommended the state do routine inspections every year instead of every 18 months, reduce licensors’ average caseload from 97 to 50 or less, require 24 hours of provider professional development per year instead of 10, and reduce the number of infants and toddlers a provider can care for from three to two when older children are present.

The ranking is the third the association has performed since 2008 to increase awareness and advocate for more state and federal regulation of the nation’s nearly 1.7 million child care businesses operated inside family homes. For instance, the association would like the federal government to require minimum licensing standards, minimum education standards and fingerprint background checks in order for a state to be eligible for federal programs used by states to pay for child care. Those include Child Care and Development Block Grants, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Social Services Block Grants.

New rules coming

The ranking report was released this month, coincidentally at the same time Washington rolled out new family home child care regulations. The new state rules governing the state’s nearly 5,000 family child care homes are effective March 31. More than 200 of those are in Clark County.

Some of the highlights of the new rules include requiring providers to have a minimum education of a high school diploma or equivalent, requiring noncriminal background checks of children ages 13 to 16 who live in a family home child care and increasing the amount of wood chips or pea gravel around some playground equipment.

Mason said some of the new rules, such as requiring providers to have a food handler’s card, will enhance children’s safety. Other new rules appear to step over the line of reason, Mason said.

She said she’ll have to dismantle some playground equipment at her family child care home in Fern Prairie before March 31 because of a new requirement for 9 inches of wood chips or pea gravel 16 feet in front and 16 feet behind swings. She said she has 6 inches of soft covering 14 feet in front and 18 feet behind the swings on her playground equipment. Moving the whole structure to abide by the new regulation would be cost-prohibitive, Mason said.

“I just think it’s too restrictive,” she said. “If parents are comfortable with the existing structure, and no one has been hurt on it, why is now considered unsafe? The restrictions are making it harder to stay in business.”

‘A failing grade’

The average state score across the nation was 46 percent.

“Using a standard grading scale across American classrooms, this would be a failing grade,” the report stated. The association did not return repeated calls to its media line for additional comment.

Sixteen states received a score of 0 for either not requiring an inspection before licensing or not requiring a license at all. They are Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia.

To read the association’s full 240-page report, visit http://http://bit.ly/yL0HyW.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.