The writer is executive director of Child Care Aware of Virginia.
As a mother, when my children were young, I used community-based child care. I know how difficult it was for my daughter to find care for my granddaughter. As executive director of Child Care Aware of Virginia, I work every day with parents seeking child care and help them become educated consumers.
Child care is not just about the location or the hours that the caregiver operates; it’s about a feeling that you can trust your children will be safe and cared for. But in many areas of Virginia, it’s hard to find licensed child care. It’s hard for parents to know whom to trust.
In Northern Virginia, parents don’t have to police child care because local ordinances require a license or permit as soon as one unrelated child is cared for in the home. However, in the rest of the state, children are at risk, and parents too often don’t know about the risk until a tragedy occurs.
The 43 deaths in unregulated child care in Virginia since 2004, reported by The Post on Labor Day weekend, are tragic. Since then, three more babies have died in unlicensed child-care programs in Virginia. It is time to protect children in child care. Working parents depend on it.
Some people believe that licensing doesn’t make a difference, that it’s just paperwork. But it does make a difference. It means a provider has had a background check and training in health, safety and emergency preparedness. It means a provider has oversight.
Licensing matters in promoting child safety. Required monitoring of licensed programs helps ensure that providers are equipped for emergencies and do not engage in practices that put children at risk.
The licensing threshold for individuals operating a child-care business out of a home matters, too. Virginia does not license home-based child-care providers until six unrelated children are in the home. That makes it difficult to report an unlicensed provider because no one knows whether the provider is caring for her own children plus relatives or other unrelated children. If the law for Virginia required, as do the local ordinances in Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties, a license (or permit) for individuals paid to care for at least one unrelated child through a child-care business out of his or her home, it would be clear whether someone was operating illegally.
Licenses are not expensive. The licensing fee charged by the Virginia Department of Social Services is $14 per year for an individual who wants to operate a child-care business out of his or her home. Background checks cost about $50 and are conducted once every three years. The state does not charge a fee for orientation training. The Department of Social Services maintains a calendar that lists provider training, much of which is free. And any costs incurred are tax-deductible.
It’s tough juggling work and family. Parents need child care in order to work, but because they work, they can’t be in the child-care setting to see how the day goes. They have to trust the provider to act in the best interest of the children, protect children from harm and promote their healthy development. Many parents want providers who care for children in a home setting. But that setting, where providers care for five or fewer children, offers parents the least protections for their children — because, outside of Northern Virginia, they are not required to be licensed. Without licensing, there are no background checks, no training, no emergency plan and no inspections.
Some say that requiring a license will push current providers underground (they will operate anyway without a license). Those providers are already underground. They are not required to be licensed. We don’t know how many there are or where they are. But we do know that in Virginia 46 children have died in unlicensed care since 2004.
The licensing threshold for child-care businesses operated out of an individual’s home is set in state statute. By setting the licensing threshold at six unrelated children, the Virginia General Assembly has codified legislation that puts children at risk.
Dels. Richard L. Anderson (R-Prince William) and Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) are working with child-care advocates to close the child-care loophole. Hopefully, their colleagues will agree so that all children throughout the commonwealth will be safe in child care.
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