Last week, United Way staff and volunteers from across the state visited the Indiana statehouse to add our voices to support for bipartisan legislation to improve early child care and education. HB1036 outlines basic health and safety standards such as safe conditions, group sizes, nutrition and daily activities for child care providers accepting taxpayer-funded payments. HB1004, the pre-K bill, is not directly connected but does increase access to early childhood development tools for Hoosier families.
Indiana United Ways have made HB1036 a priority because it goes a long way to clarifying child care options and criteria for families. The child care landscape is confusing to say the least, with a network of licensed/unlicensed categories with widely varying standards. Homes caring for fewer than five unrelated children and registered ministries are not required to be licensed. Unlicensed providers that do NOT accept the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) are not required to have specific child care training, staff/child ratios, minimum square footage, or fire code requirements.
CCDF is a federal subsidy that helps families who are unable to afford child care that is needed for parents to be able to take training and enter the workforce. Last year, Indiana spent $178 million in CCDF, including a state match of $33 million, with more than $32 million going to unlicensed providers, 27 percent of the children served by CCDF.
The bill would impose standards for child/staff ratios that mirror those of licensed providers and require basic training for staff in topics such as safe sleep, child abuse and neglect detection, first aid and CPR. It also requires working communications devices (usually a phone) on the premises, reporting of serious injuries/death, and would allow the providers to access the state’s immunization registry. The bill does not require any facility changes for fire codes, doorways, exits, lighting or fire suppression, nor does it address square footage requirements, primarily out of consideration for associated costs.
There are no regulations of curriculum now for licensed or unlicensed providers, including any restriction of religious content, nor does HB1036 impose any curriculum regulation. Indiana does have a voluntary program, Paths To Quality, that addresses curriculum and developmental needs in an effort to give parents additional tools to assess providers.
For current unlicensed providers, the bill applies only if they choose to accept CCDF payments. It appears to have broad support, but as with much proposed legislation, small groups of naysayers often speak with a loud voice.
I encourage you to join in support of ensuring access to safe, quality learning environments for our most vulnerable residents by contacting your state lawmakers. We will contribute to a stronger future by providing a system that puts children on track to enter school ready to learn. Nearly 9 percent of Indiana’s population is under the age of 5 and children of working mothers spend an average of 35 hours a week in child care. The quality of that care makes a difference — today and tomorrow.
Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County Inc. Her column appears the fourth Sunday of each month. She can be reached at email@example.com or 608-3061.