Letters to the Editor: Vermont regulations overburden childcare providers
I was pleased to see a discussion of inadequate childcare in Addison County on Oct. 9th’s front page, and even more pleased to learn of the forum that had taken place with childcare experts, educators, and legislatures to discuss this important issue that challenges so many families. However, there was no mention of what seems to be the most obvious challenge of late for child care providers: the nearly 100 pages of licensing regulations for home-based child care providers that were dropped on providers last year by the Department for Children and Families.
Let me preface by saying that I appreciate that the Department for Children and Families offers the service of registering and checking-in on home daycares. When I was a new parent without a lot of connections to “kid things” their website and resources were very valuable. I was able to search for registered daycares, read snippets about the program written by the care providers, view their “stars rating,” and any violations of DCF codes they may have incurred. These resources helped me locate two truly wonderful care providers that have cared for my children over the past six years and rule out many others.
Then, without soliciting feedback from parents or the general public, DCF felt it necessary to regulate the life out of my beloved care providers. Although I believe the road to these 100 pages of unnecessary edicts was paved with good intentions, the outcome is bad. My own care provider has been extremely concerned with being able to meet these regulations and the cost associated with doing so, since child care is not the most lucrative of professions. Yet not meeting them subjects her to DCF “findings” that can be published on their website and/or loss of registration status.
Some of the gems of these regulations that can be found within the 20 pages of detailed rules on “physical environment and safety” are requirements that outdoor play areas must be fenced, free of climbing “hazards,” and that play structures with surfaces greater than 30 inches off the ground must have no less than 9 inches of mulch, sand, or pea stone as required by PUBLIC playground standards. These are not public playgrounds… they’re backyard swing sets. What, do tell, is wrong with grass? This whole ridiculous measure made me want to start a “Save the Grass!” campaign. The sad result: many care providers have removed their play structures or prohibit daycare kids from using them, I mean, at least we don’t have a problem with childhood obesity in this country. Oh, wait…
The foolishness does not end there. There’s a requirement that if the provider is unable to adhere to the 3 pages of nicely outlined hand-washing requirements (because maybe they went for a hike and took a snack with them) that they must use hand sanitizer, but “Only non?alcohol hand sanitizer shall be used for children under twenty?four (24) months of age.” What??? No, thank you. I’ll pass on the triclosan, thanks.
There is a level of detail on changing diapers that I might have wished for when I brought my first baby home sans instruction manual, complete with details on how to check diapers and documenting each diaper change. There are two pages on “sleep and rest accommodations,” a full page on how and when providers may administer medications and when they may not (and here I thought this was within MY purview to decide for my children), and half a page detailing the required contents of a first aid kit. I’m still scratching my head about how this relates to caring for children:
“18.104.22.168.3 On the basement level, at least one (1) exit shall be directly to the outside of the home. Bulkhead type doors are prohibited as exits. If the basement is used, one (1) of the exits may be a window provided the window is no more than forty?four (44) inches from the sill of the window to the floor and has a minimum opening of at least twenty (20) inches wide by twenty?four (24) inches high. The window shall be accessible to children and staff and easy to open.”
Look, I am far from a perfect parent… I screw up on a daily basis. But I’d like to think that if a child-care provider is apt to allow kids to play with handguns while licking lead paint and sticking a coat hanger in an electrical outlet, that my maternal intuition would have steered me away from leaving my kids in their care to start with. I choose home-based care providers because I wanted my kids to have a relaxed and personally nurturing environment in which to grow and thrive. I feel that these regulations are robbing parents of that choice while placing undue burdens on those doing the most important work of caring for our children. It shouldn’t be a leap to hypothesize that they’ve also contributed to the shortage of care-providers that we’re experiencing.
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