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Unlicensed day cares need more oversight

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Jan. 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
January 24, 2013 5:45 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

If a child’s grandmother or next-door neighbor is taking care of him while his mom’s working, should that person get paid for it? By taxpayers?

A whole lot of that is going on in Washington, and it’s legal. This kind of unlicensed day care is eligible for government subsidies of $2.20 an hour for the first child and $2.17 for additional children. These providers must pass a background check and keep attendance records but don’t have to comply with the more rigorous rules imposed on licensed day cares.

The problem, state auditors discovered, is that 92 percent of the subsidies to unlicensed day care providers in 2011 – or more than $100 million – were problematic in some way. Many involved faulty record-keeping, but in some cases, outright fraud was involved. For instance, people were being paid for falsely claiming to care for each other’s children.

Unlicensed child care fills a real need, particularly for low-income families and ones with special-needs children. But given the auditors’ findings, reforms are clearly needed to ensure that public money isn’t misspent.

State Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, is proposing that, after a year, an unlicensed provider must get a license in order to continue receiving public subsidies. That means having a high school diploma or equivalent, allowing home safety inspections and complying with small-business regulations.

That sounds like a lot to require of a grandma who’s watching her daughter’s children. But it does make sense to increase accountability requirements, especially if more than one child is being watched. State auditors recommended more monitoring for compliance and conducting home visits – which currently is not allowed.

Ideally, more low-income parents would get assistance to put their children into licensed facilities where providers are trained and the facilities are inspected for safety. But many of these parents work odd shifts at night and on weekends, when traditional child care isn’t always available. (Many parents know the shame of having to pay extra for being a few minutes late to pick up their child from licensed day care. )

Unlicensed providers fill an important niche for many parents. The challenge for lawmakers is to come up with rules that provide more accountability for the public subsidy but not make those rules so onerous that parents lose their care options. The possible results – parents having to give up their jobs or children staying home alone – are not good ones.

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