The county would revert to Virginia state child-care standards, which Child Care Aware of America, a national advocacy group, has given a safety and quality rating of F for family home care and D for child-care centers.
“Arlington County is going to be leading the race to the bottom if we get rid of this code,” said Sandra Redmore, director of the Clarendon Child Care Center, who is organizing a petition to fight the change. “It’s critical to maintain high quality standards in all settings,” she added. “But low standards are going to hurt low-income children the most — and that hurts us all.”
In Virginia, family home-care settings with up to six children, religious institutions and after-care programs are exempt from state licensing standards. An estimated 400,000 children, about half of all those with two working parents, are in such unregulated care, according to Child Care Aware of Virginia, many of them infants.
In Arlington, the cuts would have the greatest impact on the county’s 125 family home child-care programs with up to six children, serving a total of 625 children, which would no longer be licensed by the county. They also would affect 14 child-care programs offered by religious institutions and after-care programs.
Overturning Arlington County’s Ordinance 59 and eliminating the three-person Child Care Licensing Office would save the county about $250,000. Arlington is trying to close a projected budget gap of $25 million to $50 million.
“I have a lot of concerns about it,” said County Board member Mary Hughes Hynes, who has worked as a day-care director and teacher. “It’s been a point of pride for Arlington for many years that we’ve focused our attention on our littlest people.”
The board will hear public comments on Tuesday and approval of a budget is expected April 20.
Kurt Larrick, spokesman for the department, said the 66 child-care centers and 29 larger child-care homes that together serve 4,200 children are licensed by the county and the state. Under the proposal, they will continue to be licensed by the state, he said.
“We’re striving for better efficiencies, and that stood out as an area where we might be able to step back without compromising safety,” he said. “There were no easy choices.”
But child-care advocates argued that those state licensing standards are far lower. Under the proposal, student-teacher ratios for licensed providers would be higher and teacher education requirements would fall.