INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana day cares that receive federal money would face new requirements for training and staff-to-child ratios under bills three lawmakers plan to introduce in the next legislative session.
At least two of the proposed bills aim to close loopholes that exempt church and unlicensed day care centers from many of the safety regulations that apply to licensed facilities, The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday, Nov. 20. Such day cares have to meet minimum standards, but some legislators and child advocates say those aren’t adequate to ensure children’s safety.
Efforts to strengthen church day care regulations have met with strong resistance from groups that want to prevent state intervention in church affairs. But child care advocates contend that any day care that takes government money should play by the same rules.
“I think that the public is getting tired of there not being accountability,” said child advocate Tracie Wells, a longtime member of the Legislature’s Committee on Child Care who plans to register as a lobbyist to push new regulations. “After a government shutdown and cuts across the board, we should not go on giving our hard-earned and scarce and needed tax dollars to people who cannot meet minimum standards for the care of children.”
An Indianapolis Star investigation found at least 22 children have died in Indiana day cares since 2009. Sixteen of those deaths occurred in unlicensed day cares.
Republican Rep. Timothy Wesco said he will introduce a bill requiring day care providers that receive Child Care and Development Fund dollars to be trained in child abuse detection and prevention. The bill also would require providers to complete at least 12 hours of continuing education and to immediately report suspected abuse and neglect.
Bills proposed by state Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, and state Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, would require day cares receiving federal money to meet specific staff-to-child ratios and group sizes based on children’s ages. Such requirements currently apply to licensed day cares but not to church facilities.
“It shouldn’t matter to us as legislators what kind of child care it is,” Taylor said. “Any time we put government money into a government program, we should make sure that program is regulated. To give money to families then put them in a situation where their child is in danger is not a good policy to have.”
Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, said the state needs to new regulations against church autonomy.
“Our concern has been that there would be undue interference in church-provided day care,” Smith said. “Obviously, everyone wants children to be safe and environments to be healthy and wholesome.”
Mindi Goodpaster, director of public policy and advocacy for the Marion County Commission on Youth, said she supports tighter regulation because there have been too many incidents in unlicensed day cares.
“I think it’s irresponsible of the state to let that happen,” she said.