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New Child-Care Rules: Reform Comes After A Tragic Death

PHOTO: One-year-old Joseph Allen died in a fire at an unlicensed child care business. But his grandfather says his grandson's story is helping to change the law. Photo from LuAnn and Herman Allen.
PHOTO: One-year-old Joseph Allen died in a fire at an unlicensed child care business. But his grandfather says his grandson's story is helping to change the law. Photo from LuAnn and Herman Allen.
February 9, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. – Bills now moving through the General Assembly would improve safety in child care, according to a grandfather pressing for the reforms because of the grandson he lost.

Last October, one-year-old Joseph Allen died in a fire at a Midlothian home child care business.

The child’s grandfather, Herman Allen, says such tragedies are pushing lawmakers to tighten Virginia's lax child care rules.

He says the woman caring for Joseph didn't have the license she needed – and so, might have known better than to tell firefighters that all of the children had gotten out of the building safely.

"But she was wrong,” Allen Says. “Approximately 45 minutes later, firefighters find Joseph on the second floor of her home, strapped into an upside-down infant car seat carrier."

Critics of the reforms say they are afraid the reforms will raise the cost of child care.

About 1,900 unlicensed child care centers in Virginia accept government child care subsidy payments.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe backs the legislation.

The various bills would do things such as requiring fingerprint background checks for child care workers and require that more of the businesses get a license.

Emily Griffey, senior policy analyst with Voices for Virginia's Children, says licenses are important because of the basic safety and training rules that go along with getting them – things such as having smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan.

She says the requirements for keeping a license also are important.

"Fifteen hours of training a year, information on CPR and safe sleep, monitoring inspections to ensure that their home is safe and is up to requirements," Griffey stresses.

Griffey says the legislation does not go as far as her organization would like.

For one thing, she says, many states require a license of any business that takes in more than three children.

The thresholds now being considered are higher than that. But she and Allen agree that the bills moving though the Legislature are a real improvement.

Allen says it makes it worth the pain of talking to lawmakers about what happened.

"It has been difficult to tell Joseph's story,” he says. “But we think that by doing that, future children will not suffer the consequences that Joseph did."


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA