COLUMBUS — Call it ignorance, denial or trust. But most Ohio parents believe home day cares are policed more rigorously than they are.
Many are alarmed to learn that Ohio is among a handful of states remaining with virtually no oversight of the smallest in-home baby-sitting operations, those that parents often view as the most desirable because they care for three to six children.
“When you tell parents these facilities aren’t inspected and caregivers don’t get a basic criminal records check, they’re shocked,” said Elaine Ward, chief operating officer of Cincinnati’s 4C for Children, a referral agency for parents.
Lawrence Hall and his wife, Jennifer Koski, learned the hard way that the facilities weren’t monitored. Their 5-month-old daughter, Madelyne, died in 1998 in a home day care where another child had choked to death eight years earlier. Under Ohio law at the time, they were never told of the incident and never thought to ask.
Hall and Ward are among those backing a new bill that calls for the small private home day care operations to be licensed by the state. Getting a license would require a provider to submit to safety, health and home inspections and to pass a criminal background check.
“Will licensing help? Will it make a difference?” Hall asked at a news conference. “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that it will.”
Only four states have looser day care regulations, according to data from the National Child Care Information Center. South Dakota begins licensing home day care facilities that care for 13 children, while home day cares aren’t licensed at all in Idaho, Louisiana and New Jersey. In Ohio, home day cares caring for seven or more children must be licensed.
Sen. Steve Stivers and Rep. Jon Peterson, the bill’s Republican sponsors, say legislators have worked for years with child care providers and advocates to bring the voluminous proposal together.Improving conditions for the state’s youngest residents is consistent with the policy vision lawmakers have already been following, Peterson said.
That includes increases in spending for children’s health insurance and early childhood education.
The bill would apply to all private, in-home day care facilities caring for three children or more, bringing them in line with standards at 50,000 certified public day care facilities around the state. The new standards would not apply to those under 18, family members caring for relatives, and babysitters, nannies and au pairs who come to a child’s home.
People who provide less than 10 hours of care a week less than four weeks a year would also be exempt. Stivers said requiring providers to have clean criminal histories and meet a few minimal safety requirements is all the bill requires, and the least the state should expect. Certified providers would also have access to training courses, college scholarship money, and their charges would become eligible for public programs, he said.
The program would be administered through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, but has also been endorsed by the Ohio Department of Education for the benefits it can bring to children during their most formative years of life.