Child care providers say they're less concerned about being put out of business by new state regulations after hearing this week from officials at the Department of Education and Early Development.
Yvonne Chase, deputy commissioner of the department, allayed some fears about proposed caregiver-to-children ratios and other new requirements for licensed facilities that will be considered by the state Board of Education June 7-8 in Seward.
Chase said she'll propose amendments to the draft regulations, following many of the suggestions made by providers in recent meetings around the state, including two Thursday in Juneau.
While encouraged by Chase's responsiveness, Vanessa Hildebrand of Neverland Child Care in Douglas noted: "None of it's in writing yet."
Meanwhile, child care center directors and licensed home care operators are questioning the legal distinction between facilities such as theirs and "registered" home care facilities, which aren't directly monitored by the state. A license is required when five or more unrelated children are in a program.
The discussion comes at a time when low wages and more strenuous requirements are putting some operators out of the business, even as parents of young children have trouble finding vacancies.
"Some of us already have parents planning their pregnancies around child care openings!" Hildebrand wrote to Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway this week on behalf of the Alaska Family Child Care Association.
DEED is new to the child care licensing program, having taken it over last July from the Department of Health and Social Services under a 1999 law reorganizing part of the executive branch of state government.
DEED is just now implementing some laws that have been on the books, such as a requirement adding fingerprinting to the background check for child care workers.
In other cases, the department is taking the initiative on health- and safety-related measures, such as requirements on how guns are stored.
Most attention has been on proposed new ratios stating how many children a caregiver can supervise, based upon their age. The idea is to guarantee more attention and higher quality care for infants and toddlers, as well as to reduce the risk of caregiver stress and loss of control in dealing with the youngest children.
But the original proposal would have forced Hildebrand to turn away two of the six children she currently cares for.
"Where are those children going to?" she asked.
Chase was amenable to some changes, although she couldn't guarantee state board approval. For example, she's proposing that the number of students per caregiver be based upon the age of a majority of children, rather than the youngest child.
And she's recommending retention of the current rule limiting the number of children under 30 months old in a child care home to three, with at least one of them able to walk. The proposed regulation would have lowered the under-30 limit to two.
Chase also said she'll offer compromises on increased requirements for education and training. Cliff Doherty, president of the Juneau Center Directors Association, said it's a survival issue.
"Efforts to increase quality without adequate financial support will result in shifting children into unlicensed care, with fewer safeguards for health and safety," Doherty, co-owner of Dancing Bear Too Montessori School in Juneau, stated in written testimony.
Licensed providers are questioning why everyone shouldn't be licensed.
Currently, there is little incentive, they say. Licensees are eligible for state grants for extra toys and food, and health- and safety-related equipment. But they must be willing to accept children on an attendance basis, meaning they can charge only for the exact number of days service is provided, rather than on a monthly basis, said Cindy Amdur of Juneau, family child care specialist with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Meanwhile, there are state inspections and paperwork that registered home care providers don't face. Low-income parents who get state child care subsidies can go to either licensed or registered facilities.
"Some of the proposed regulations will lead to even more closures and fewer programs being licensed," Hildebrand wrote to Holloway. "Changes in numbers of children in licensed programs should happen only after the majority of family child care homes are licensed, not when there are three times as many unlicensed homes as licensed throughout the state."
Chase said regulations for unlicensed facilities might be considered.
Doherty also said that when it comes to ratios, there are inconsistencies with what is permitted in public schools.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.