California makes progress ensuring basic health, safety of children in licensed child care

Guest blog from Kim Johnson, Public Policy Director, California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

Editor’s Note: Child Care Aware® of America participated in a story with a California investigative reporting team writing about families’ access to licensing and inspection information on child care in their state. The story, which also featured an interview with Kim Johnson, public policy director at the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network prompted local lawmakers to move forward getting inspection records online and easily accessible for families. Kim writes here as a guest blogger about the history and progress of protecting children in child care in California and why this might be the year the system gets a much needed technology fix.

California’s licensing program, the Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) performs the essential function of protecting the basic health and safety of children in licensed centers and family child care home settings in California. Budget cuts and compliance procedures have resulted in a program that now provides inadequate oversight and monitoring of these facilities – as few as one site visit over five years.

Prior to 2003, licensed child care centers were required to receive a site visit at least once a year and family child care homes three times a year under CCLD. In reality site visits may occur as few as once in five years from the licensing program, hardly enough to ensure minimum safety in an industry with high staff turnover.

The California Child Care Resource and Referral Network (the Network) has led efforts that would require more frequent inspections by sponsoring Assembly Bill 419 (Mitchell): Care facilities, in the 2011-12 legislative session and in the current year with Assembly Bill 1454 (Calderon): Care facilities: regulatory visits.

Research demonstrates that licensed programs are more likely to be in compliance with required regulations if inspections occur more frequently. In addition, inspections are associated with lower rates of accidents requiring medical attention.

The Network strongly encourages the allocation of new resources to expand states’ capacity to ensure the basic health and safety of children in licensed child care settings by strengthening the licensing infrastructure.

The Governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year provides additional funding to the Licensing Division to strengthen their accountability and oversight and to make efficiencies. The discussion about this proposal in Budget Committees in both the Assembly and Senate, demonstrate that the Legislature is also supportive of providing new resources to the Licensing Division.

Paired with recent television and print media attention that highlights California’s need for improvement, citing research such as, Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013, “We Can Do Better Report,” may just put this issue over the tipping point to make positive change.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to learn more about AB 1454 and support this effort by signing the Network’s petition located here: http://www.rrnetwork.org/support_ab_1454.

Recent Media:
NBC Bay Area Coverage
California Lags Behind in Child Care Oversight
Completely Outdated Inspection System Needs Fix

Parents Struggle to Access Child Care Records
California’s Lack of Online Child Care Records Leaves Parents in the Dark

Kim Johnson serves as the Public Policy Manager of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network where she guides the Network and its member agencies in budget and legislative analysis, public policy education and advocacy efforts. Kim also leads the Network’s Public Policy Committee. She is a mother of three.

More in the States: Virginia progress on background checks for child care providers

5 reasons the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant matters

ccdbg reauthorize2The Senate will consider the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) as early as next week. As you know, this federal law outlines how child care funding and quality initiatives are funded in the states –yet it has not been reauthorized in over 17 years, making the Senate debate next week one of the most critical conversations about children in child care in recent times.

This piece of legislation, S. 1086, is something for which Child Care Aware® of America has long fought and we’re thrilled and hopeful that the bill has come this far.  There are many steps to take still, but if passed, this legislation would help ensure working families have access to safe, affordable child care in ways that do not exist today.

Children and families in America are counting on you and I to rally behind every step the CCDBG reauthorization takes towards becoming reality. That’s why we are urging everyone to contact their Senators and ask them to support S.1086 right away.

Need more? Here are five reasons the reauthorization of CCDBG matters:

  1. Comprehensive background checks. Did you know under the current law, many states do not require child care providers to have comprehensive background checks to work in child care? This means that it’s possible for anyone to receive child care funds and work with children… even sex offenders. This CCDBG reauthorization requires providers undergo a comprehensive background check, which include state and federal fingerprint checks, sex offender registry check and a child abuse and registry check. It’s a common sense requirement to keep children safe.
  2. Increased quality funds to states. The current CCDBG law requires that states use 4 percent of funding from CCDBG for quality dollars. These quality dollars help Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies support quality initiatives like training and parent education. This number of quality dollars increases dramatically with S.1086 requiring that states set aside no less than 6 percent of funds in 2014, 8 percent of funds in 2016, and 10 percent of funds by 2018 to improve the quality of child care.
  3. Increased awareness for families. This CCDBG reauthorization requires states to electronically post the results of monitoring and inspection reports, including substantiated complaints of child care programs. Additionally, states would be required to collect and make public the number of deaths, serious injuries, and instances of child abuse. Transparency is necessary to help parents choose the right child care setting for their family.
  4. Inspect child care programs before licensing. Many states do not require inspections prior to issuing child care licenses. Some states even allow self-certification prior to receiving a license. The CCDBG reauthorization, S.1086, requires states to inspect programs at least once before licensing and at least one unannounced inspection annually. These reports must also be posted electronically.
  5. Continuity of care. S.1086 ensures each child who receives assistance through CCDBG will continue to be eligible for child care assistance for no less than 12 months, as long as family income does not exceed 85 percent of state median income for a family of the same size. This is extremely important for our youngest learners because we know how crucial continuity of care is in a child’s early years. The ability to keep a child in a program consistently will help ensure the child receives appropriate developmental activities and prepares them to start kindergarten ready to learn.

This is a critical moment for the future of children in child care. You can send an email to your Senators through our Action Center here and to learn more about the bill, please visit our website here. Don’t delay. Your senators will need to know your position as they prepare to discuss the bill.

Thank you for your support for children in child care.

Harkin, Miller, Hanna propose Strong Start for America’s Children Act

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Today, Congress sent a clear message to the nation.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congressman George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013 in the Senate and House, respectively. Flanked by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and actress Jennifer Garner, Harkin and Miller introduced the bill before a packed room of early education advocates including parents, educators, and members of the law enforcement, military, and business communities – and children!

“Families are trying to give their children the right start in life and are not given the opportunity. They deserve better”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

The legislation would follow much of  President Obama’s FY 2014 Budget proposal:

  • Creating a new program providing enhanced access to preschool for 4-year-olds
  • Expanding partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs, and
  • Provide guidance on the importance of home visiting

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently offer state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. The Harkin-Miller-Hanna proposal would build on these existing state programs, while supporting infrastructure development in states without programs.

At the same time, the proposal ensures families have increased access to quality care, by including more funds for quality initiatives in child care settings and expanding partnerships with Early Head Start programs in their communities.

The Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act in September. Now, along with the Harkin-Miller-Hanna proposal, we continue to see Congress is listening, and they know children and families deserve better.

Although there is still work to do, the Harkin-Miller-Hanna legislation is a vital step forward validating the importance of quality early learning experiences nationwide.

What is QRIS? Webinar series continues Thursday

As Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) have expanded across the country, states are focusing on the “I,” improving quality.

Child Care Resource and Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) are important players in the quality improvement landscape and have a large stake in the structure and functioning of QRIS.

Our “Raise Your Hand” webinar series continues on Thursday, with Gerrit Westervelt, Ph.D., Executive Director of the BUILD Initiative and its QRIS National Learning Network, leading an interactive discussion of the evolution of QRIS, the increasing attention to QI strategies, and how QRIS are shaping state early learning systems.

We invite you to join us for this important webinar, Raise Quality, part of our ongoing series that is designed to increase awareness about federal and state opportunities to support child care, connect participants with content experts, and promote meaningful action to get the job done.

Register here.

New Report Finds States Lacking in Background Checks and Inspections

On Monday, November 4, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General released a report on the monitoring of licensed child care providers. The findings, while displaying the dire state of child care licensing standards nationwide, are not surprising.

The report found that 21 states do not require all licensed child care providers to receive an annual, unannounced inspection and that only 15 states require comprehensive background checks. While finding that all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia are in compliance with current Federal regulations, the requirements are vague and provide states with little guidance on how to improve accountability for the funds.
Under current Federal regulations, states are required to provide protections for children using federal child care assistance in three areas:

1) Prevention and control of infectious disease
2) Building and physical premises safety
3) Minimum health and safety training

Even though all states may have implemented policies and practices that comply with the above requirements, the reality is that many states don’t provide basic protections for children and families. For example, the OIG report found that “only 15 States reported performing checks sufficient to be considered comprehensive background screenings for both center-based and family home providers.”

While conducting a background check via a state criminal record check or of the child-abuse registry may provide some information on the criminal history of a potential provider, it is essential that a FBI Criminal check, based on fingerprints is used to ensure consistency between states, and that a check of the sex-offender registry is conducted. The report states that currently, “the sources least often checked by States were FBI criminal records and sex-offender registries. “

While the numbers of states not conducting comprehensive background checks show that states are lacking in requiring a measure that most parents believe are already in place, the HHS report found that 21 states did not report requirements for routine inspections, and those that did, did not always comply with the states own monitoring requirements.

In FYs 2010-2011, the report showed that states were consistently missing opportunities to “identify deficiencies and recommend provider improvements.” For example, in that time period, Illinois missed 82% of its required inspections; primarily failing to record complete and/or accurate details about the inspections. Inspections are crucial for ensuring that children receive the most basic protections while in child care settings and typically look for whether the number of children present matches the amount in the sign-in/sign-out log, whether staff/child ratios are met, whether the program has current certifications for CPR and first aid, and whether dangerous chemicals are properly stored.

The HHS-OIG report emphasizes the necessity for improvements to current law and/or regulations to ensure that children and families that receive federal assistance for child care are provided basic measures to keep them safe and healthy. Although the report focuses on the state of the state statutes as they exist currently, there has been federal initiatives to require basic standards, including comprehensive background checks, initial and annual training, and pre-licensure and annual inspections.

The CCDBG Reauthorization bill would ensure that children are in a safe environment that promotes their healthy development. Parents need child care in order to work and a strong economy depends on working parents. Parents want it; children need it. Urge your Senators to reauthorize CCDBG today!