RICHMOND, JAN. 28 -- The Virginia General Assembly, in an effort to increase protection for children, is considering legislation that would give parents more tools for assessing child care centers and pave the way for broader regulation of child care providers.
State officials in charge of investigating reports of child abuse also called on the General Assembly today to add substantially more money to their budget to help them deal with a caseload that has more than doubled in the last decade.
Among recent actions:The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee today approved legislation that would give the public access to state inspection reports and other records at facilities licensed by the Department of Social Services, such as child care centers and homes for adults.
Parents, who cannot now see such reports, could review any state investigations of alleged child abuse or violations of state licensing standards at a child care facility.
"In Virginia, you have more access to information on a used car purchase than on a child care facility," said Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William), sponsor of the bill and chairman of the panel's health standards subcommittee. "This bill is important to the consuming public of Virginia after all the horror stories we have heard."
A Senate proposal calls for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study whether the state should extend licensing requirements to all child care providers, including those who work out of their homes, with a view to taking action in the 1989 or 1990 General Assembly.
Thirteen delegates and senators sponsored legislation to end all exemptions from licensing requirements of child care providers.
Larry D. Jackson, commissioner of Virginia's Department of Social Services, told a House Appropriations subcommittee today that his department needs $12.3 million above what is included in Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' proposed biennial budget.
The funds would be used to increase staffing and consequently bring up the number of hours investigators can spend on cases involving alleged abuse of children and the elderly.
The number of confirmed incidents of child sexual abuse in the state has risen from 102 in 1976 to 1,915 in 1986, Jackson said. Child abuse complaints overall have more than doubled from 21,045 in 1976 to 47,888 in 1986.
Investigators spend an average of 5.8 hours on each case, while national professionals recommend a minimum of 10, he added.
Much of the reason for the increased child abuse caseload resulted from laws adopted in the 1970s requiring various professionals to report suspected child abuse, more public education and better methods of investigating allegations, the commissioner said after the hearing.
The licensing of child care facilities and homes has received increasing attention in Virginia and across the country, as more children are cared for by someone other than their parents.
To date, however, state regulation has remained relatively lax.
Virginia does not regulate day care by people who use their homes to care for up to five children.
A child care conference called by Baliles last summer recommended that all child care be licensed.
Key legislators, noting a traditional reluctance in Virginia to regulate, say the General Assembly will not significantly stiffen child care regulation, but several predicted passage of the audit and review commission's study proposal as a prelude to stricter state oversight in the next two years.
"I'm convinced Virginia will expand licensing criteria," but not this year, Brickley said.
The study resolution, introduced by state Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk), states that most family day care homes are unregulated, that many providers receive no supervision and training, and that it is difficult for parents to assess unregulated care. It would give the commission a 1990 deadline for a final report.
The House committee also passed legislation requested by the administration specifying that state social services officials may conduct one unannounced inspection visit a year to facilities it licenses.