A Montgomery County woman who cared for six children in an unlicensed day care arrangement in her Germantown apartment has been charged with manslaughter and child abuse in the apparent drowning death of a year-old toddler, police said yesterday.

County officials said they believe the death of Melissa Solesby of Germantown is an indication of the possible dangers caused by a shortage of licensed day care facilities in the county.

The baby sitter, Jeanne Raines, 21, who lives at the Rolling Hills apartment complex, called paramedics Oct. 16 to report that Melissa had stopped breathing, according to Detective Kevin Stone. The detective quoted rescue workers as saying they believed the infant had been immersed in water, because she was wet and her skin was wrinkled. He said doctors at Georgetown University Hospital noted water in her lungs and treated her case as a "near drowning."

The infant was removed from a life-support system and died Friday at the hospital, one day shy of her first birthday. She was a daughter of Sandra Solesby of the 1200 block of Locbury Circle.

Raines was arrested Monday and released on personal recognizance. Stone said an initial autopsy report listed the cause of her death as "inconclusive," pending further laboratory tests.

Stone said Raines told police that she put the baby down for a nap and noticed, about 45 minutes later, that the baby was not breathing. She declined to answer further questions from investigators, Stone said. Raines could not be reached for comment.

"Anytime something like this happens, it means we have to keep trying to make sure that legitimate day care is available to every parent," said Millicent Grant, director of the Department of Family Resources' working-parents assistance program.

"But we haven't reached that point yet. No one has, anywhere in the country. And I don't think there's anything we can do to absolutely prevent such a terrible thing from happening again," Grant said.

Alice Littlefield, supervisor of day care licensing at the Department of Social Services, said records show Raines never sought a license to operate a day care facility in her five-room, $640-a-month apartment in a sprawling new development off Seneca Highway.

Had Raines sought a license to operate a "family day care home," Littlefield said, she would have been required to attend a training class.

Before deciding whether to issue a license, she said, officials would have inspected her apartment and questioned her extensively about child-rearing theories and practices.

An operator of a "family day care home" is allowed to care for as many as six children at a time as long as no more than two of the children are younger than 2, and if county officials find the facility adequate.

"Child care centers," where more than six children at a time are watched over, are regulated by the county Department of Health and subject to a more involved licensing procedure.

About 79,000 children under age 9 live in the county, and roughly 48,000 of them need day care, according to Joan Wilson, the county coordinator of child care resources. But there is space for only about 20,000 of them in the county's estimated 1,200 licensed day care facilities. As a result, she said, there is ample room in the market for unlicensed providers, who apparently outnumber their licensed counterparts.

"Some of them just don't want to go through the hassle of the regulation process," said Littlefield.

"And I suspect some don't want to report their income to the IRS," she said.

While licensed providers in the county took in about $90 million last year, Wilson said, their counterparts collected more than $100 million.

Anyone who spends more than 20 hours a month caring for a child who is not a relative, and gets paid for it, is required to seek a license, officials said.