A just-released study on fatalities in out-of-home child care conducted by the City University of New York Graduate Center, found that child care is quite safe overall but identified a need for training, pay, and oversight of child care, particularly in the more isolated in-home family child care setting.
The study also identified that the largest number of child fatalities occurred in private family child care (FCC) home settings. "Many of these child care tragedies occur because of weak child care regulations, training requirements, and a lack of funding to support even basic oversight and inspections", says Linda Smith, Executive Director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). According to Ms. Smith, "Over half of all children in the United States are in the care of an unlicensed caregiver who likely has little or no training or education."
The need for quality, out-of-home child care is well documented. Over 65% of mothers with children ages 0 to 5 are in the workforce and a full fifty percent of all infants are in some type of non-parental child care by the age of nine months. Of these numbers, 11% are in family child care homes, 31% in child development centers, and 48% in some type of relative care.
NACCRRA recently conducted a series of fourteen focus groups with parents at seven locations around the country. The results are startling. Parents routinely voiced the assumptions that programs are receiving routine oversight and training by their local government agencies. However, these assumptions are far from fact. It is time for public policy to catch up to parent expectations that their children are in regularly inspected programs with adequately trained adults looking after them.
Licensing and monitoring criteria of FCC homes varies radically across the nation. Two states have self-certification, meaning there is no licensing or regulation (Delaware and Nebraska), and many states exclude providers caring for less than a certain number of unrelated children. For example, Mississippi does not license a provider caring for 6 unrelated children. California inspects only 10 percent of all child care providers each year. In contrast, the Department of Defense requires all providers caring for unrelated children to be regulated, trained, and monitored quarterly.
It is well documented that FCC providers are isolated and there is less oversight and other support available. This leads to a higher risk for children. Unlike caregivers in center-based settings, FCC providers are generally home alone for 10 to 12 hours per day with no relief or support from other adults. It is also well documented that when a systemic training and monitoring structure is provided, child risk decreases.
The basic health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is at stake, yet Congress has failed to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant for the last four years, resulting in a reduction in funds four out of the last five years. Without necessary funding, children will remain at risk. We applaud studies such as the CUNA Graduate Center study to help keep the need for improved caregiver wages, increased training, and increased oversight as one of the greatest social needs of our country's families and their children.
The NACCRRA once again calls on Congress to increase child care funding and for state policy makers to establish appropriate oversight requirements and policies on basic health and safety measures in order to protect children in out-of-home child care settings. One child lost is one too many.