One of the more remarkable features of American society is the emphasis we place on reliable, affordable, and safe child care. Day care centers, preschools, and other early learning programs allow very young children the opportunity to socialize and learn with their peers while their moms and dads work, play, or parent younger siblings. Parents do not take lightly their decisions on where and with whom they trust in caring for their precious children; security, safety, cleanliness are as important to most parents as location and convenience. This is why a new government report of day care centers in the United States is so disturbing, as Mike Brunker explains:
The report by the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that 96 percent of the 227 commercial day-care centers and in-home providers that its auditors visited were found to be in violation of at least one state safety or health regulation.
And many had multiple infractions, including such shockingly obvious safety hazards as protruding rusty nails, dog feces in play areas, unlocked liquor accessible to kids and filthy restroom facilities.
The audit found more problems than just hazardous conditions and substandard equipment:
But most alarming, said George Nedder, the acting deputy regional inspector general who led the investigation, was the number of people either working in daycare centers or hanging around in-home providers who had not undergone required criminal background checks.
“We found 186 people who lacked a criminal records check either caring for children directly or present in the facility — in one case, living in the basement of a child-care provider,” he said. “You’re talking about people who have access to kids all day long. Who are these people? Nobody knows.”
Pennsylvania, which was one of the nine states and Puerto Rico involved in the audit, didn’t fare very well according to the report, and neither did the state agency responsible for keeping child care centers in line:
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (State agency) did not always ensure that providers that received Child Care and Development Funds complied with applicable State requirements related to the health and safety of children. We determined that three providers complied with the State requirements. However, 17 providers did not comply with 1 or more of the State requirements to ensure the health and safety of children. Specifically, 16 providers did not comply with requirements related to the physical conditions of their facilities, 14 providers did not comply with administrative requirements, and 4 providers did not comply with requirements to obtain criminal history and child protection reports. In addition, one provider falsified the renewal application by certifying that there were no prohibited criminal charges pending.
In addition to the immediate correction of identified health and safety hazards found on their inspections, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) wants to see more routine inspections of child care facilities from more inspectors carrying lighter caseloads. The OIG also calls for Pennsylvania to “develop and implement State regulations to require that criminal background checks are conducted at least once every five years in accordance with new Federal requirements,” and, “ensure that providers obtain required criminal background checks and child protection reports.”
Pennsylvania suffers from two very important and unfortunate situations. The first is a legislative branch currently run by partisan ideologues seeking to repeal the very government regulations meant to protect the health and well-being of children. (DHS is only one of several state agencies that have been understaffed and overwhelmed in recent years.) The second is the lack of a forward-leaning state budget that plans for a future longer than a few months. Without a change in how elected officials in Harrisburg approach these very real problems, Pennsylvanians are unlikely to see improvements any time soon.