Learning from the Military Child Care System

It’s Memorial Day Weekend and a time to celebrate and remember those who died in service to our country – over a million men and women who have died since the Civil War protecting our people and democratic values – not “democratic” as in political party, but the big “D” – Democracy – a government in which power is vested in the people – a representative democracy with free elections to affect nationwide policies.

We have so much to learn from the military and how they take care of their families. Just one example, out of many, can be seen in the system of child care for children in military families compared to the system of child care for children in non-military families.

Last month, Child Care Aware® of America released “We Can Do Better: 2013 Update,” the 7th in a series of licensing reports scoring and ranking the states based on state child care center licensing policies and oversight.  According to the report, states averaged a score of 92 out of 150, a grade of 61 percent – very close to a failing grade. The Department of Defense (DoD) child care system was scored and ranked as well, since it is a system analogous to a state system serving many children throughout the country. The DoD child care system topped the list, outscoring all the state systems, with a strong framework based on safety and child development. How did the remainder of the states fare? The top 10 states earned a “C”, another 21 earned a “D,” and the remaining 20 states failed.

A U.S. Senate Committee hearing in 2011 compared the Military Child Care Act (MCCA), which governs the child care policies set by DOD with the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – however, individual state policies vary greatly.  Both acts have parental choice in child care settings as a centerpiece. Both acts were passed by Congress to respond to an increase in working women and a greater need to make child care more affordable for working families. But, that is about all the two laws have in common.

The Department of Defense has developed a system of quality child care. Nearly 100 percent of child care centers overseen by the military are nationally accredited compared to less than 8 percent of child care centers in civilian communities.  The military child care system has minimum protections for children, parents can choose from an array of settings that all meet these minimum protections, and there is accountability for how DoD child care funds are spent.

In contrast, CCDBG has led to a patchwork array of child care settings under different laws in every state. There is no system. There are no minimum protections for children. Parents can choose licensed or unlicensed care. There is little accountability for how public dollars are spent.

The MCCA requires a comprehensive background check (fingerprints against criminal records) for child care providers. In contrast, CCDBG does not require a background check. Do background checks matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Elly Lafkin, whose baby died in a child care program a year ago. A police investigation revealed a history of criminal offenses, which the provider had committed under various aliases, but Elly and her husband didn’t know because Virginia doesn’t require a fingerprint check so parents aren’t aware of offenses an individual with various aliases has committed.

The MCCA requires the Secretary of Defense to establish a uniform training program for child care providers. The act requires, at a minimum, that training shall cover:

  • Early childhood development
  • Activities and disciplinary techniques appropriate to children of different ages
  • Child abuse prevention and detection
  • CPR and other emergency medical procedures

As a result, DoD policy establishes a minimum requirement of 40 hours of initial training either before a provider cares for children or early on once hired. Also, DoD requires 24 hours of annual training as follow-up and to reinforce initial learning.

In contrast, CCDBG has no minimum training requirement. State requirements vary greatly.  For child care centers,

  • Only 21 states require staff training in child development.
  • Only 34 states have safe sleep requirements for infants.
  • Only 9 states require all staff to learn CPR.
  • Only 15 states meet each of the 10 health and safety policies recommended by pediatric experts.

Think a requirement for provider training in safe sleep doesn’t matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Nathan Salomonis, whose baby died in a licensed child care center in California where there is no safe sleep requirement to protect infants.

The MCCA requires regular unannounced inspections of child care programs. In contrast, CCDBG has no inspection requirement.  Nine states conduct inspections of child care centers less often than once a year.  About half the states conduct inspections of family child care homes less frequently than once per year.

Think inspections don’t matter? Read the story of Child Care Aware® of America parent leader, Vicky Dougherty, whose toddler son died in a defective crib in a child care program where potentially an inspection may have noted the problem and save her son’s life. But, in Pennsylvania, family child care homes are inspected only once every six years.

There are quality child care programs throughout the country. But, licensing laws vary greatly by state and CCDBG – the federal framework for state laws, contains no requirements for background checks or training for providers and no requirement for regular inspections.

CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years.  Earlier this month, HHS Secretary Sebelius announced new proposed rules for child care to better promote the safety and healthy development of children through existing regulatory authority.  If you think it’s time to provide minimum protections for children in child care, comment today on the regulations.gov  web page.  If you think it’s time for Congress to reauthorize CCDBG and better protect children in child care and promote quality child care programs, let your Members of Congress know by clicking here.

It is great news that our Democracy created child care systems for military and non-military children. But, now it’s time to fix the system for non-military children.  A Democratic society can and should do better for our families.

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New HHS Rules Promoting Children’s Health & Safety in Child Care

This past week, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, held a press conference at an early learning center in Washington, D.C.  to announce new rules to promote the health and safety of children in child care.  She said that in the absence of legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Administration is proposing to revise current regulations to better promote the safety and healthy development of children.

HHS Press Conference May 16, 2013

HHS Press Conference May 16, 2013

In addition to the Secretary, a child care center provider and an individual licensed to operate a child care program out of her home spoke about the need for quality child care. They talked about the importance of high quality care for children to both be safe and in a setting that leads to school readiness.  For millions of children, child care is their early learning program.

One of Child Care Aware® of America’s parent leaders from Virginia, Elly Lafkin, spoke at the press conference about the death of her baby in a child care program. She told everyone how she and her husband had limited access to child care because they live in a rural area. She said this was their first baby and they were doubly anxious and cautious. A background check was conducted but it was a name check NOT a check using a fingerprint match against state and federal records. Unfortunately, the name check searched for only that particular name and it was only after the death of her baby when a police investigation was conducted that she and her husband learned of multiple aliases her provider had and the list of offenses for which her provider was convicted. She looked right at the audience and told them – if she knew that the provider had those offenses, she never would have selected her among other providers to care for her baby.  For more information about state requirements on background checks, click here to see the latest information and state tables from our research.

The proposed HHS regulations include minimum training requirements like safe sleep practices and first aid, practices to prevent shaken baby syndrome and emergency evacuation or shelter-in-place planning.  The Secretary called them common sense requirements. She talked about the importance of continuity of care.  She is concerned that frequent recertification requirements means in many states that parents are losing access to care, not because they earned more money, but because they somehow did not comply with the paperwork.  Another key component of the proposed new rules is for states to ensure that parents have more information about the quality of care so that they can be informed consumers.  The Secretary said inspection reports should be posted on the Internet and parents should receive information about child care programs through the use of quality indicators that can be easily understood by the public.  This only makes sense. Parents really can’t make informed choices if they don’t have information.

Congress has not reauthorized CCDBG in 17 years.  It makes sense for HHS to review current regulatory authority to better protect children.  The proposed regulations are posted on the Internet and HHS is inviting public comment over the next 75 days.  There are several areas in the regulations that ask for specific comments with regard to aspects of quality care such as scope and hours of training, frequency of inspections, and an appropriate time-frame during which to phase-in the new requirements.

Child Care Aware® of America will be working in the weeks ahead to promote the best quality care possible. We’ll be holding webinars and preparing summaries of various aspects of the proposed regulations. The comment period of 75 days is a long time, but it will go by fast. HHS needs to hear from us about what we believe will promote the health and safety of children in child care.

Summer Reading Matters

Fact: Reading even five books is enough to prevent a decline in reading achievement scores over the summer.

That’s right – five books!

It’s easy to slip into summer without thinking about school. After all, it’s vacation time. But there are a few easy ways to work in a book. Or five.

Read as a Family
Goodnight MoonMy favorite children’s book is the classic, Goodnight Moon. I bought if for my son, my firstborn. And though he’s now 12, it still sits in our house, worn from many readings (and a few teething chews).

My daughter and I still read together every night, too. She’s 10. Sometimes we read an entry from one of my journals from when I was young. She sees my childhood handwriting and suddenly my words have meaning to her.

Steal our favorites
I asked our staff to share their favorites, and why. Here’s what they said:

“Growing up one of my favorite books was The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. I remember being fascinated by all the predicaments he found himself in.  Ultimately he learned some lessons along the way! I also loved the drawings and pictures.”
Debbie Taylor, Regional Military Child Care Liaison

“Three Little Kittens. Kittens who get to eat pie when their lost mittens are found. What’s not to like?”
Theresa Klisz, Director, Editorial Services

“My little brother and I would to beg to hear Time for Bed by Mem Fox just one more time before bed. There’s a page where the mother goose says to her gosling, ‘Go to sleep little goose, little goose. The stars are out and on the loose!’ And, while book itself has a tender closeness to it, there was a beauty about reading that together and imagining the stars before going to sleep.”
Audrey Williams, Communications and Policy Intern

Ask the experts
There are lots of resources to explore if you want to make developmentally appropriate picks for your children. You can always start with your child’s teacher. Ask what books are going to challenge your young reader, but also keep reading enjoyable. Also try the American Library Association Library Services to Children. Here’s their list of  2013 Notable Children’s Books.

What’s your favorite children’s book? We’d love to hear it. Tweet the title to us @usachildcare with hashtag #childhoodbook

More Resources
School Readiness Fact sheets
Source: Child Care Aware of America

Let’s Read. Let’s Move.
Source: Corporation for National and Community Service

Best Children’s Books by Age
Source: Parents.com

Happy Reading!