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New state rules to protect children in a variety of day-care settings have local providers scrambling to learn about updated regulations that take effect July 1.
Day-care providers also are searching budgets to pay for criminal background checks required for all employees.
For a day-care operation with 30 employees, the cost of fingerprinting and detailed FBI background checks will reach nearly $40 per person or a total of almost $1,200. That’s up sharply from the $7 cost of limited state background checks used in the past. FBI checks must be done every three years.
Barbara Newton, director of First Presbyterian Preschool on Seventh Street, said finding the extra money may sting for smaller nonprofits and some home-based day cares, but she supports the tougher standards.
“It’s expensive, but the cost would be even greater if you did nothing,” Newton said.
“Some parents are forced to seek out the cheapest options for child care,” Newton said, “and this will help make sure the cheapest option is also a safe one.”
Melanie Brizzi, child care administrator for the state’s Bureau of Child Care, said digital fingerprinting and national criminal checks will catch more unsavory employees and prevent day-care operators from unwittingly hiring people with a history of felonies or child abuse in other states.
“The national check has several advantages. No. 1, it’s consistent for all provider types. And using the national FBI database captures criminal behavior from other states outside Indiana,” she said.
The national screening also checks for aliases, nicknames and screens for possible misspellings of names.
Current teachers and other employees at day-care operations have a year to get fingerprinted, although new hires must go through the screening before they come in contact with children.
Newton said her 30-employee shop plans to find the money to get all of its employees tested immediately.
“We want to get this off our to-do list,” said Newton, whose First Presbyterian program has classes for two-, three- and four-year-olds.
The background checks are just one of several additional requirements that day-care operators must navigate under updated rules passed by state legislators this spring.
Other revised standards address safe handling of infants at day cares and training to detect possible child abuse.
For the most part, the rules apply to home-based day cares, licensed centers and ministry-based child care operations that accept students receiving child care development fund vouchers to pay tuition for low-income families.
Indiana legislators addressed the day-care rules a year after a one-year-old boy drowned in 2 feet of water in a church’s baptismal font during day-care hours at the facility in Indianapolis.
Brizzi said such incidents always serve to heighten awareness of child safety issues, but she thought legislators were intent on addressing day-care standards even before the February 2012 drowning occurred.
Brizzi said the new rules are likely to save children’s lives.
“Research shows that training (on safe sleep practices and child abuse detection) works,” she said. “Incidents are reduced.”
Elisabeth Jones, interim director of First United Methodist’s Learning Tree child-care classes, said she supports the revised standards and beefed up required training. About 30 employees will be covered by the mandated criminal background checks at her
“In general, it’s a good move for the state of Indiana to keep all of us on a level playing field in regards to who is taking care of our children. The national background checks will help with that,” she said.
The cost is a concern, Jones said, adding: “I wish they could have worked with all the nonprofits somehow to negotiate a different rate.
It’s a big commitment monetarily.”
Paying the extra cost will be worth it in terms of child safety, though, she said. “I feel like the more systems in place to regulate these things, the better the state can watchdog whichever facilities aren’t compliant with the safety of our kids,” Jones said.
First United Methodist accepts 1-year-olds and older pre-kindergarteners in its various preschool classes. The church also has extended-care hours from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
“The cost of fingerprints is a biggie. We were just talking about it,” said Denise Brown, head of the North Star Montessori program in Columbus. Brown said the new rules affect 15 staff members at her operation.
“We also have to put up no-smoking signs in the building and adopt some new sleep regulations,” she said. “We can’t have blankets in cribs with little ones up to 12 months old. They have to use sleep sacks, sort of like baby Snuggies that they wear. We’ll have child-abuse prevention training.”
Brown’s program accepts infants as young as six weeks old and is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Classroom instruction goes through third grade.
Smaller day-care operations are also being swept into the new rules.
Take, for instance, Cabrina’s Safe Haven for Kids on West County Road 200 South in Columbus.
Owner Cabrina Jackson, who opened the weekday 24-hour day-care program four years ago, said she supports tougher criminal background checks.
Safe Haven is licensed for 16 children per shift, and it runs three shifts per day Monday through Friday. The program accepts children from six weeks old to age 12.
“The FBI checks will safeguard our children and me, too,” Jackson said, adding that she intends to cover the initial cost of the screening for her employees.
But Jackson said she’s also aware of rising operating costs to keep her door’s open in today’s economy.
“You don’t make a lot of money from this,” she said. “Prices are going up for everything. If the minimum wage went up to $9 per hour, we wouldn’t be able to employ anyone.”
Jackson said she intends to take part in a state-sponsored webinar to learn more about the new day-care rules. She said she has had as many as 10 children in her care at times in the past whose families were on child development fund vouchers. The day-care owner has no more than three on the government-funded program today.
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