Parents for Safe Child Care

Other states have made big strides

Monday, June 24, 2002


To improve the safety and quality of licensed child care in Washington, the state needs a better watchdog -- armed with more licensors and an enforcement policy that addresses problems quickly.

Regulators also need to be more upfront about a day care center's track record, sharing that information with parents.

Experts say those changes -- and an infusion of government money -- would go a long way toward elevating Washington into the ranks of model states.

Washington is far from a leader today when it comes to helping parents make the best child care choices. Parents can call a toll-free number for a limited rundown of complaints and investigations, but other states provide much more information and oversight.

In North Carolina, a rating system assesses the overall quality of care at each licensed day care, taking into account such factors as the education and training of employees and how well the business has met state regulations. Parents can obtain copies of a center's complete licensing file, and they can go online to get detailed information on licensing and health inspections.

On the enforcement front, experts say Washington's Division of Child Care and Early Learning needs to double or triple its day care inspections. To make two visits a year, the agency would need to hire 50 more licensors, for a total of 127.

Tennessee, spurred by the deaths of two children in day care vans, recently increased monitoring visits to six per year for centers, four for in-home day cares.

While Washington has some good tools at its disposal -- including fines, probationary licenses and revocations -- licensors are slow to use them, opting to mentor substandard providers for far too long, experts say.

Other recommended tools include requiring day cares to carry liability insurance and to post notices of major violations or licensing actions. Neither are requirements now.One of the biggest threats to quality, however, continues to be a sparsity of government financial aid.

Without more money coming into the system, experts say child care will never improve much in this country. In "America's Child Care Problem: The Way Out," authors Suzanne Helburn and Barbara Bermann argue for a federal voucher system that would cost about $50 billion a year.

"I don't really believe that we're going to get a total federal solution to this," said Billie Young, manager of child-development programs for the city of Seattle.

Young heads up NW Finance Circle, a group looking at combining government subsidies and private contributions in a one-stop "financial aid" program for parents.

How can we be sure that additional money translates into higher-quality care? Some ideas:

Other states have made major investments in recent years.

Georgia created a state-funded pre-kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds. Kentucky spends $55 million a year on programs to improve the health of mothers and children and support families.

North Carolina invests more than $220 million a year in improving resources for young children, including health, education, parent support and child care services. The program has been replicated in at least five states.

Someday, Washington may follow.

As Rachael Langen, head of the Division of Child Care and Early Learning, put it: "I want (us) to be North Carolina when we grow up."


Here are some addresses, phone numbers and Internet sites that might prove helpful if you have questions about day care or problems with a day care facility:

To report violations or file complaints against a provider: 866-363-4276 (866-END-HARM)State hot line for reporting suspected abuse or neglect. Callers will be referred to local offices.

To check on the complaint and violations history of a provider: 866-482-4325 (866-48 CHECK)Provides basic track record information; refers callers to state licensors.

For help in choosing a day care provider:

Referral source for King County parents. Search for day cares; get tips on finding quality care.

Statewide resource-and-referral site, with links to child-care information outside King County.

Washington Division of Child Care and Early Learning site features link to "Choosing Child Care" guide.

To find out if your provider is licensed:

Parents for Safe Child Care is a 501(c)(3) non-profit