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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Action needed on child care bill

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Several years ago, we both moved back to Indianapolis with our daughters in tow. One was new to Indianapolis and one was returning to her home city. Finding child care was a top priority for both of us and we called and visited several day care facilities that included in-home providers, centers, and child care ministries.

What we didn’t know at the time was that child care ministries are not licensed in Indiana and not well regulated.

As social workers, we understood the importance of quality early childhood experiences and were aware of what to look for. We knew to ask about staff-child ratios, educational levels/training of the staff, curriculum utilized for teaching the children, criminal background checks and how often staff received CPR/first aid training.

We knew to request a tour of the facility, what safety features to be looking for, and how to ask the right questions. However, after learning that child care ministries are not held to the same standards as centers or in-home providers, we both wondered how many other parents knew to ask those questions? We also wondered how many children were being cared for in environments that wouldn’t meet minimum licensing standards.

The person or facility that provides care to a child greatly influences that child’s ability to learn, grow, thrive and succeed.

Consider these facts:

n 85 percent of a child’s capacity to learn is determined during the first five years of life.

n Brain development of young children is directly influenced by the relationships and environments that they experience.

n Children who received high-quality care in the first few years of life scored higher in measures of academic and cognitive achievement when they were 15 years old and were less likely to misbehave than those who were enrolled in lower-quality child care.

As you think of those facts, keep in mind that in Indiana, 66 percent of children under the age of 5 are in some type of child care setting outside of the home and spend an average of 36 hours a week in that setting.

There are 745 unlicensed child care ministries providing care to children throughout the state of Indiana. Although many of these child care ministries are providing quality care to children, there are no minimum set of requirements that a ministry must abide by in order to care for children.

Last year, nearly $34 million of federally funded Child Care Development Funds (CCDF) were paid to unlicensed providers.

A bill has been introduced in the General Assembly that attempts to standardize basic health and safety regulations for all child care facilities. The purpose of Senate Bill 56 and House Bill 1226 is to ensure that child care facilities have, at a minimum, drug testing and policy, national criminal background checks for directors (not all staff), training in CPR, first aid, universal precautions and child abuse and neglect, as well as hot and cold running water.

While this legislation appears very logical, there are those who oppose the bill on the ground of separation of church and state. They believe that the state does not have the right to interfere in church affairs and since a large number of child care ministries reside in or are part of churches, they believe that this legislation is a stepping stone to the state becoming fully involved in church affairs.

It is important to clarify that this is not the purpose of the legislation. The legislation does not address issues such as staff/child ratios, curriculum/programming, Sunday and Vacation Bible School, staff education requirements or fire code regulations.

We need to remember that children’s lives and well-being are at stake in this debate.

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