Indiana lawmakers consider tougher day care legislation

Bill does not address 'zero' on national report

INDIANAPOLIS - A Call 6 Investigation into dangerous day cares is prompting reaction from parents, day care providers, child advocates and even state lawmakers.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney found children dying in all types of day cares , and some argue the state needs better overall standards to protect children.

State lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would boost requirements, such as child/staff ratios, for any day care accepting Child Care Development Fund tax dollar voucher funding.

"While we have taken this pragmatic approach to focusing on child care providers that are paid with public funds, we would like to see the standards raised for all child care," said Lucinda Nord, vice president of public policy for the Indiana Association of United Ways, in response to the story. "It is appalling that our state allows so many exemptions."

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said focusing on day cares receiving tax dollars is a good place to start.

Taylor said Indiana spends $178 million in federal funds and state match dollars on CCDF vouchers a year.

"It's about protecting those who are the most vulnerable -- our children," said Taylor.

House Bill 1036 would require day cares that receive taxpayer dollars to follow child/staff ratios that mirror licensed child care providers.

HB1036 would also require basic training for staff such as safe sleep, first aid, CPR and child abuse and neglect training.

It would also require reporting of serious injuries that require medical attention during the hours in child care.

Taylor told a legislative committee he was horrified at conditions in unlicensed church day cares, also known as registered ministries.
"We went to a facility that had over 60 kids and two caregivers," said Taylor. "There's a young kid, and I'm sorry if I get emotional about this, walking around in a filthy pajama top at 2 o’clock in the afternoon eating crackers off the floor. This was a registered ministry."

Eric Miller, of Advance America, is the most vocal opponent to increased regulation of child care ministries, saying it would infringe on religious freedom.

"There's no new legislation needed," Miller told lawmakers. "Child care ministries are inspected twice as much as all other child care facilities. Existing law is adequate to address the problems presented thus far."

Karen Baker, director of voluntary certification registered ministry Kids Kastle in Fishers, said she and some other church day cares voluntarily follow additional guidelines, such as child/staff ratios.

A voluntary certified registered ministry is not required to be licensed. However, these ministries have voluntarily agreed to meet important health and safety standards, including staff-to-child ratios, capacity, discipline guidelines, nutrition and supervision of children.

"Children can get hurt," said Baker. "Children need to be supervised. We have no desire and we have never had a desire to be a center that just barely got by with the requirements."

Baker said parents should also check to see whether a day care is part of Paths to Quality , a voluntary rating and improvement system. 

Baker said it's possible to be a religious facility and follow the same regulations as licensed centers, such as supervision requirements, group sizes and training for things like CPR and safe sleep.

"It's not that difficult," said Baker, who is currently listed as a Level 2 out of 4 on Paths to Quality.

Kenney shared some of her findings with Baker, who said she hopes tougher regulations are needed for all day cares. 

"I think it's very sad," said Baker.

A senate committee has yet to vote on HB 1036. The legislation does not address the fact that a provider does not need a license in Indiana until there are six or more unrelated children.

That fact earned Indiana a score of zero on a national report on home day care standards.

"They don't want us to regulate children?" said Taylor. "It's a sad case in Indiana if we can't get this done. It’s sad."

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