January 31, 2014

Child care proposal to improve child safety clears House panel

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

State lawmakers hope to further improve child care standards through a proposal which passed the Indiana House of Representatives’ Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee on Jan. 22. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the legislation.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, author of the proposal, House Bill 1036, spent the past several months studying child care issues to bring better safety for children while mitigating any concerns from religious ministries that provide child care that tighter standards would infringe upon rights and freedoms.

The legislation addresses issues such as group sizes of children, food, health, safety and sanitation standards. The specific standards would be determined by the Division of Family and Children (DFC). The bill also provides children-to-adult staff ratios that mirror the requirements for licensure. It also requires reporting of injury to children where a licensed medical professional is involved.

The child care providers that the bill targets are providers that receive Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) dollars. The CCDF dollars or vouchers are provided to low-income families to use at participating child care providers.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, who testified before the House panel in support of the legislation, said, “The provisions outlined in HB 1036 are reasonable and conform to good practice that ought to be followed by providers whether or not they are in statute. The health and safety of children are vitally important to the well-being of the children and for their parents.”

Mahan addressed his fellow lawmakers, reminding them of the bipartisan support in the Indiana General Assembly to improve care and early childhood education overall. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation requiring criminal background checks for providers and basic safety for childcare providers that accept taxpayer-funded CCDF dollars.

“As legislators, we are accountable for programs that use taxpayer funds because our constituents expect it,” said Mahan. “If we are really interested in getting children ready for kindergarten and we are already spending $178 million per year of tax dollars on childcare through the CCDF fund, we need to make sure the vendors that we pay to care for these children meet basic health and safety standards. House Bill 1036 focuses on quality and accountability with taxpayer funds.”

Mahan said the bill focuses on the “most basic, common sense requirements,” and does not require any facility changes. Regarding nutrition and daily activities, he said, “I want to make sure kids aren’t sitting around eating Pop Tarts and tater tots. There is not a mandated curriculum. Instead, I want to make sure kids have a regular routine and are not being put in front of a television all day.”

Eric Miller, executive director and founder of Advance American, which represents 3,400 churches in Indiana, raised numerous concerns with the legislation saying the bill would give too much license to the state agency to regulate what goes on inside the church walls.

Responding to some of the bill criticism brought on by Miller, Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, a member of the committee, said of HB 1036, “We are just trying to do what’s right for children.”

Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Oldenburg, also a member of the panel, said, “As a member of the Catholic Church, [we] have no problem with compliance over and above the minimum standards. So we’re not picking on churches in this bill.”

Connie Sherman, executive director of St. Mary’s Child Care Center in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, testified in support of the bill saying that 90 percent of the children that St. Mary’s serves are in low-income situations.

Sherman explained that children who are in poverty are up to two years behind in their learning. “The good news is high quality, early childhood education mitigates the results of the poverty,” Sherman said. “And the best news for the children of Indiana today is this bill provides the research-based benchmarks of high quality education so desperately needed for our children.”

Tebbe added, “Because many of the providers are religious ministries, following concerns raised by Church leaders during the first hearing on the bill, a subcommittee worked on language to clarify that only health and safety and not curriculum and religious activities are involved. This new language was adopted in the bill.”

Mahan said that while many child care providers far exceed the requirements already, it may take time for some providers to adjust their programs. The majority of the provisions in HB 1036 will not go into effect until July 1, 2015, if the bill is passed, to give providers time to prepare.

Indiana law currently allows at least three types of child care providers: 1) a licensed child care center; 2) a licensed child care home; and 3) an unlicensed, registered child care ministry. Under current law, each type comes with certain requirements.

The amended bill passed the committee 9-3 on a bipartisan vote. The bill will now move to the full House for further consideration.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. To explore the ICC’s electronic public policy tool and join the ICC legislative network, go to the ICC Web page and click “Legislative Action Center.”)


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