Many daycare providers don’t require background checks, undergo surprise inspections, or follow safety measures, according to a new report from the Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general. The report raises new concerns for parents who drop off their children during the week.
HHS’s inspector general looked at daycare providers in five states and found deficiencies that included inadequate staff-to-child ratios, broken playground equipment, and unscreened adults with access to children. In addition, only 15 states require comprehensive background checks, and 21 states don’t require annual surprise inspections.
Through the Administration for Children and Families’ Child Care and Development Fund, the federal government provided more than $5 billion last year in childcare subsidies to help parents work or go to school. Parents choose their own provider as long as it met the state’s requirements. In effort to provide accountability for those federal tax dollars, the agency is recommending more rigorous standards for states participating in the program.
Licensing for childcare facilities differs from state to state: Regulations for childcare centers in Texas comprise more than 250 pages, while Maryland’s licensing document is only 47 pages. States are in charge of monitoring everything from staff training to requirements on napping and warming bottles. While all states address group daycare facilities, in-home daycare, and religious childcare options, specific expectations vary from state to state. For instance, Massachusetts requires one adult for every three children under the age of 18 months, but in South Carolina the ratio is one adult to five children.
Proposed regulations would require the following: criminal background checks; annual unannounced inspections; compliance with state and local fire, health, and building codes; and training in first aid, CPR, and safe sleeping practices. It would also require childcare providers to report serious injuries or deaths so parents can screen daycare providers in their area and report problems to a hotline.
Many states exempt home-based daycares that serve only a few children. Without being held to the same health and safety standards as licensed options, tragedies have occurred. Alecia Patrick of Olathe, Kan., said her 18-month-old daughter, Ava, died in 2009 at a home-based daycare when her head became caught in a fence. The daycare operator was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter and operating a daycare center with too many children. Patrick and her husband helped pass a Kansas law that requires all providers to be licensed and inspected.
“It’s a start,” Patrick said of the proposed regulations. “When you get a start, then you know there’s room for improvement in the years to come.”