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Feds Neglect Child-Care Update for 16 Years

May 7, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine - Congress has gone 16 years without reauthorizing the bill that helps fund local child-care programs. That is far too long, say leaders in the field.

It's the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and in addition to the funding it allocates to states, it sets standards for training, health and safety - including background checks for child-care workers. Child-care advocate Grace Reef is troubled that the bill has not been reauthorized since 1996.

"In general, every five or six years, Congress is reauthorizing, which means taking another look at what they did. Is it working as intended, are there things we need to address, or things we've learned?"

She says it is imperative to revise regulations that create the situation in some states that when someone from out of state applies to work with children, the only check for a criminal past is done against that state's records, not those of other states.

Reef says regulations vary widely from state to state, with many shortcomings in safety measures.

"Only 10 states do a comprehensive check for employment in a child care center, and only nine states do a comprehensive check if you want to become a licensed family child-care-home provider. We think that's not good enough."

Reef says her organization, Child Care Aware America - armed with new surveys of states' laws and policies - is working hard on Capitol Hill to get the issue higher up on the priorities lists of senators and representatives.

"It's not an issue like a war in a foreign country. It's not an issue like bankruptcy, that's impending and you need to do something about. We're struggling. We'd like to strengthen the quality of child care and make sure children are safe. How do we get into that top tier?"

Reef hopes to at least get Congress to consider revising the law's health, safety and training provisions, if not increasing funding.

"Let's push politics aside. Child care should be a bipartisan issue. How can we reach agreement on some core elements that would be low-cost or even no-cost and would improve the quality of care?"

Nationwide, nearly 11 million children under age 5 are in some type of child-care setting every week.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME