ELKHART — Some local child care providers could be asked to comply with more safety requirements by mid 2015.
A bill, HB 1036, aimed at creating more regulations for child care providers that receive vouchers from the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) could be read in the Indiana Senate for approval as early as Monday, March 3.
“We’ve been working on this for a couple of years,” said State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, a co-author of the bill. “In visiting some of these daycare centers, they just aren’t safe.”
She referenced an investigation conducted by The Indianapolis Star last year that found that at least 22 children have died in Indiana daycares since 2009.
“We are interested in doing what we can to keep our children safe,” she said.
CCDF, a federal program, provides child care vouchers to low-income families. In Indiana, the program is administered by Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) in the Division of Family Resources, Bureau of Child Care.
The Indiana House of Representatives passed HB 1036 on Jan. 28 by a vote 71-24 and then it moved to the Senate Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs where it was approved after some changes, 9-3.
Originally, the bill’s language would have required child care providers to comply with safety regulations approved by the FSSA.
Now, HB 1036 would require child care providers to create their own policies regarding bathrooms and hand washing, facility safety, nutrition, daily activities and motor vehicle safety.
The policies, though they would be filed with FSSA, would not be subject to any approval.
Changes came after some questions were raised regarding the bill’s ability to place regulations on religious-affiliated child care providers that choose to accept CCDA vouchers.
Any child care provider that meets CCDF Provider Eligibility Standards — religious or not — can accept the vouchers. Currently, providers that accept them must comply with regulations set by state law, which HB 1036 would expand.
Before the changes, the bill stated that the FSSA-approved standards it would have required “may not address religious instruction or activities.” Now that has been totally removed.
In exchange, it contains language that requires providers to create their own standards, unregulated by FSSA.
Eric Miller of Advance America, a conservative advocacy group in Indianapolis, initially voiced opposition to the bill. His concern influenced John B. Lowe, pastor of New Life Christian Church and World Outreach Ministries in Warsaw, to speak against the bill locally, too.
Lowe said that since child care providers do not apply for the CCDF vouchers, religious providers who accept them should not have to comply with the proposed regulations.
He has advocated against the bill even though his church does not operate a daycare.
"I don't have a daycare because I don't want the government involved in my ministry," he said.
“I know it’s all about keeping the children safe, but if you were to go to a daycare center, they have plenty of things to keep children safe,” he said. “The issue is slowing eroding into, ‘do we have any freedom of religion or freedom of speech?’”
Kubacki said, before the changes were made, that the bill was never meant to be about freedom of religion.
“The issue was making sure that kids were safe,” she said. “I don’t know why this is being turned into a religious issue because it is not. It’s about keeping kids safe.”
If HB 1036 becomes law, it would expand the requirements on child care providers already in place in Indiana Code 12-17.2. Most of the new regulations would go into effect July 1, 2015.
“They are just really basic standards that say ‘if you take CCDA dollars, every child in those facilities deserves to have a safe environment,’” said Kubacki.
Also, it would require all care givers to be first-aid certified, complete 12 hours of continuing education annually and require at least one care giver in each facility to be CPR certified.
HB 1036 would also set limits on child-to-caregiver ratios.
“We’re saying, ‘OK, you have to be able to pick up kids in your arms and get them out of there (in case of danger),’” said Kubacki.
So far, the bill has gained bipartisan support from members in the House and the Senate.