Earlier this month, I attended a meeting and was seated next to a couple of child care providers who are from Australia, but recently opened a program in the Bay Area. They were expressing their amazement (and disappointment) in our child care system as compared with the system in Australia. In Australia, there is a nationwide set of standards for child care. Here, not only does each state have its own requirements, but certain issues like use permits, zoning, parking, etc. varies from county-to-county and even city-to-city.
I hadn’t really thought about our system in this respect before, but this lack of uniformity does make it very difficult to start a new child care program. One place where I have had grave concerns about our lack of consistency is in the overall quality of care. When my husband was leaving the military, I was researching possibly starting a child care program in the state to which we would be moving. As an employee of the military child care system (which is excellent), I was shocked by the lack of requirements for child care in the state that was about to become my new home. They were practically non-existent. However, I saw that other states had pretty stringent requirements. I am encouraged by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) new initiative to establish some national child care standards. (Without getting into the political discussion of whether they are the proper agency to make such a move.) Unfortunately, these national standards will only apply to subsidized child care programs; but it’s a start.
While I do believe that local agencies should retain the right to determine some standards, I think there are some things that must be absolute minimums. Requiring basic health and safety standards, background checks of all who care for children, and basic pre-service training (like our New Employee Orientation) are “must’s”. You can find the HHS initiative here. They are seeking public input on their recommendations. You have until August 5 to give them your opinion. I’m sure they would love to hear from you.