A study commission on local government, in a report being released today, recommends that Washington-area localities eliminate mandatory licensing requirements for private-home day-care facilities and encourage mail-in registration instead.
In a special report on day care, the Greater Washington Research Center's Task Force on Local Government labeled homes that care for the children of working mothers "the ultimate cottage industry" for which government can provide, at best, only the illusion of regulation.
"Many thousands of people, each taking care of a very few children, are impossible for licensing officials to supervise adequately," said LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., a task force vice chairman. "The number of official home visits necessary for proper monitoring would be astronomical."
The report urged instead that parents themselves police day-care facilities, with the encouragement of local government registration and referral services organized within small geographic areas.
The District of Columbia, Montgomery County and Prince George's County presently require some sort of license for homes offering day care. Arlington requires a mandatory approval process. Alexandria has a voluntary certification program and Fairfax County a voluntary program that makes providers eligible for telephone referral to parents seeking day-care facilities.
The recommendations were the fruit of a study commissioned by the task force on how parents in three Washington-area companies handle the problem of child care while at work.
The report said day-care problems are a significant factor in the work force. Parents who must arrange out-of-home child care during work show absenteeism rates nearly twice those of other employees, the report said.
The researchers did not address at length the question of what constitutes quality day care or whether nonparental custody during the work day is even desirable.
Also unclear was the applicability beyond the middle class of the study sample -- 44 percent of whom classified themselves as "management" and 65 percent of whom reported family incomes above $30,000 a year.
The report did say, however, that the traditional form of childa working father, with a mother or other adult remaining at home with the children -- was employed by 12 percent of the survey respondents and had the highest reported rate of parental satisfaction of the day-care methods used.
Most families using day care, the report said, feel they have little alternative to leaving their children daily in the care of someone else. One respondent suggested, however, that may often be more a factor of priorities than of necessity:
"If you have children, you must do without in order to properly take care of them," he wrote. "They are a gift, and you must be totally responsible for them. If this were [understood more widely] we wouldn't be in the shape we're in today."