Arlington officials are considering changing the county's day-care ordinance to make it easier to crack down on day-care providers who repeatedly violate regulations, County Manager Larry Brown said yesterday.
Department of Human Services staff and representatives from the county attorney's office met this month to discuss revisions in the Family Day Care Ordinance, such as providing for a mandatory one-day license suspension after repeated serious violations.
Under the existing law, proven violations that affect the life, health and safety of children may warrant a temporary suspension of a day-care operator's license, but only after a hearing held on the day of the suspension. The law says that suspension can be prevented if the violations are corrected, and correcting them also brings immediate reinstatement of a license that has been suspended.
Since the Day Care Ordinance was enacted in 1978, none of the county's day-care centers or family day-care homes have had their licenses either suspended or revoked, said Martin P. Wasserman, director of the human services department. According to Elizabeth Hazel of the Arlington Child Care Office, part of that department, there are now 26 day-care centers and 183 family day-care homes in Arlington.
According to Arlington County Board member Albert C. Eisenberg, the county needs a better way to enforce standards on day-care providers who repeatedly break the rules. He said an ordinance that does not permit stronger action than the current law after many violations leaves officials wielding "a feather or a sledgehammer. We really need some tools in between."
Eisenberg said he requested a review of the ordinance after receiving letters about one "extreme situation," a family day-care home that was the target of numerous complaints since it received a license in April 1983.
Among the 19 types of complaints, according to a memo from Brown, were inappropriate disciplinary measures, inadequate staff, lack of ventilation, improper storage of medicine and poor communication with parents.
"In this home, most complaints are found to be valid," Brown wrote in a memo to Eisenberg Nov. 29. But, the memo continued, "in each incident the provider has made corrections as instructed . . . The county legal staff and Department of Human Services staff have identified nothing which would merit closing this facility."
Revoking a state-issued day-care license is a severe and infrequent action, according to Sharon Schumacher, licensing specialist for the Northern Virginia regional office of the state Department of Social Services. "A revocation is serious in that you really feel children are at risk," she said. The department has denied or revoked "only a few" licenses in the past several years, none of which were in Arlington, she said.
While the County Board will not consider specific changes in the ordinance until early next year, some possibilities for repeat violators include fines, mandatory posting of notices in the center or temporary closure, Eisenberg said.
"You've got a tension here between wanting to maintain good quality services, but at the same time recognizing that we lack the quantity [of day care] that we need," he said.