Lawmakers debate more oversight for home daycares

DES MOINES – Daycare oversight in Iowa is under review at the Capitol, as lawmakers in the state House ponder legislation that would expand reporting requirements for in-home child care providers.

Under the legislation, all home-based daycares in Iowa would have to register with the state, with some exemptions for family members providing care. Currently, home-based daycares with five or less children do not have to register.

A House subcommittee approved the bill last week, but lawmakers stressed they have more work to do to determine how the requirements would work and if this would require additional state spending.

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who chairs the House Commerce Committee, said he would like to improve safety at daycares but that there are a lot of details in the bill to work out, such as if there should be any fees involved or funding provided to the Department of Human Services for oversight.

“I’m supportive of this generally,” said Cownie. “A core function of government is improving safety of Iowans and this is something near and dear to a lot of Iowans’ hearts.”

Travis and Lindsey Hoover, who live in Adel, are pushing for the legislation. Their daughter Annie died in an unregistered in-home daycare in July 2012, when she was just 6 months old. The couple declined to discuss the exact cause of death and said there was no evidence of abuse or criminal charges filed against the caregiver. But they still think that if there were more regulations and oversight for in-home centers, the death may have been prevented.

“We were first time parents. We went to houses, we interviewed people and we felt like we were safe,” said Travis Hoover, 31. “We’ve had a second child and she’s six and half months old and we have her in a daycare center. We feel like we let our first child down because we didn’t have her in a daycare center.”

There are 3,798 registered in-home daycares in the state and an estimated 4,694 that are not registered, according to the Department of Human Services. To register, the providers must provide references and complete training in CPR, first aid and on the mandatory reporting of child abuse in the first three months of operation. The daycares are then subject to annual spot-checks by DHS and additional visits if complaints are lodged.

But while the state sets a goal of visiting all registered in-home daycares each year, that doesn’t always happen. Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, they made it to 67 percent of those homes, said DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy. She said additional staffing would help them meet the 100 percent goal.

The Department of Human Services has not taken a position on the legislation in the House.

Sheila Hansen, the director of Every Child Counts, a project by the Child and Family Policy Center, said they support more daycare regulation but stressed that such a move would require funding so the state could keep up with the inspections.

“We want to see some money where their mouth is,” she said.

The state does not track child care injuries, but between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, there were four recorded deaths in unregistered in-home daycares, with three due to abuse. In registered in-home day cares, there were five deaths, with two due to abuse. There were no deaths recorded in licensed day care centers during that time period.

In-home daycares can appeal to parents for a variety of reasons, said Barb Merrill, executive director of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children. Merrill said home care offers a family setting, siblings can be together and one person will consistently be with the children. They also tend to be less expensive than daycare centers.

Still, Merrill said more oversight is important, especially because unregistered in-home daycares are eligible to receive state and federal child care assistance dollars, which help low-income families.

“We want to make sure that the quality of care our littlest citizens are getting is up to par,” said Merrill.

Tracy Ehlert, 35, has been running a registered in-home daycare in Cedar Rapids since 2007. She said requiring registration from all in-home providers is a good idea, because it holds them to higher standards for safety and training.

“Being registered means I have to take ongoing training and that’s where you learn how kids work and function. You don’t just know that being a parent,” Ehlert said. “That training and knowledge is what makes a high quality provider.”

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