COMING THE STATE OF CHILD CARE IN ALABAMA A Study by The Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama with the cooperation of the Alabama State University Center for Leadership and Public Policy November 2005 FEDERATION OF CHILD CARE CENTERS OF ALABAMA, INC. s Funding for this study came in part from the generous support of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Southern Partners Fund, and the Peppercorn Foundation. COMING UNDONE The State of Child Care in Alabama “If we believe that a set of minimum standards for child care is necessary to protect the health, safety, and well being of children, then why do we choose to protect some children and not others?” —Sophia Bracy Harris, Executive Director Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama ACKNOWLEDGMENTS t This study was a collaborative proj- ect, made possible through the efforts of many people throughout Alabama. Our thanks go to the following: To the FOCAL board who immedi- ately grasped the need and scope of the study. They provided the leader- worked behind the scenes on the project. To the FOCAL staff who traveled Alabama, talking with and listening closely to child care professionals, especially Deborah Thomas, Evan Milligan,Acquanetta Poole, Mary ship, guidance, and counsel to bring Latimore, Kimiya Harris, Dorian Ross, an idea into reality. Individually, and Tania Lang Burger. Their connec- board members also provided sup- tions keep the pulse of FOCAL port and encouragement for staff members in the field. To the Alabama State University Center for Leadership and Public Policy, which encouraged our proj- ect and provided the technical assistance for tabulating the results. Dr. Bernadette Chapple graciously accepted the study and provided assistance with the development of the survey. Mr. Myles Mayberry pro- grammed our survey questions, patiently walked us through the compilation process, and super- vised the data entry and tabula- tions. strong, and their findings form the life To the FOCAL members and allies and guts of this report. Thanks to who set up meetings across Alabama, Tania Lang Burger for her help provided contacts and introductions, throughout the process in developing and encouraged completion of the the survey, working with ASU, compil- surveys. Special thanks to Ms. Fran ing the results, and editing the report. Clampitt and Ms. Mary Silbert Davis Finally, thanks to Alex Burger for for organizing meetings of child care showing up from his world journeys, providers, to the Department of just at the right time, to help us pull Human Resources for providing a this report together. His spirit stays mailing list for licensed child care with us no matter where he goes. centers, and to numerous others who 2 A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR i I am proud to share with you FOCAL’s latest study, Coming Undone: The State of Child Care in Alabama. We embarked on this study last spring because we were concerned about the condition of child care in the state and wanted to hear first-hand the experiences of people in our commu- subsidize their care for children. Children in Alabama continue to be nurtured and educated, despite the sometimes great odds against them. We owe a huge debt to these women and men who are protecting our future in the face of a state sys- tem that often works against the best nities.We took to the highways and interests of children and families. back roads of Alabama to talk with This report documents our find- child care professionals and families ings and shares with you, our fellow about the changes they were experi- Alabamians, a glimpse into what we encing related to child care. have seen and heard. It is not an Much of what we found points to exhaustive report, nor is it the final serious problems for families and chil- word on child care in Alabama today. dren. Our child care delivery system is Rather, it is a glimpse into a reality losing integrity and leaving families that needs further attention and behind. We found contradictions in action.We hope that this report the administration of our child care serves as a call to our legislators, gov- system. On the one hand state offi- ernment officials, fellow advocates, cials promote raising quality standards. and ordinary citizens, to look more On the other hand, by their actions carefully at the state of child care in and practices they indicate that quality Alabama.We hope that together we does not matter. We found hardships can collectively craft solutions that brought on by new regulations that will support the growth and develop- were aimed at protecting children. We ment of our children, our families, found that licensed, quality child care and our futures. is moving out of the reach of many working families. Sophia Bracy Harris And yet we also found stories of Executive Director Federation of hope and courage. For most child Child Care Centers of Alabama professionals, their work is a voca- (FOCAL) tion, and they care for children in November 2005 extraordinary ways. Many providers sacrifice their own time and wages, and even run outside businesses, to 3 OVERVIEW: A SYSTEM COMES UNDONE o Our Alabama child care system is coming undone.While new regula- tions are providing better care for a few families and children, many fami- lies are forced out of quality care by rising costs.These families are turning This dual system sends a contradic- tory message to child care providers and families: On the one hand, the state says that it is committed to the develop- ment and education of our children. to unlicensed and unregulated child It wishes to promote quality child care programs.We are reforming care and, consequently, it introduces Alabama’s child care system in hopes new regulations, like higher staff-to- of improving child care. However, the child ratios. results of our efforts actually reduce On the other hand, the state does the quality of care for many children not fund the cost of implementing and families in Alabama. these changes, and it simultaneously At the core of our problem lies the promotes an unlicensed system.As a fact that we currently operate a dual consequence, these new regulations system of child care in Alabama: reduce quality for many families, limit • A licensed system that is inade- choice, and push children into unli- quately funded and carries long wait- censed and underground care. ing lists for families who need assis- In sum,Alabama is neglecting its tance in paying for child care. most valuable asset: its children. Unfunded new regulations are put- Absolutely, we need to raise the quali- ting this care out of reach for many ty of child care in this state. But working families. improved quality for some at the • An unlicensed system of child price of reduced quality and inacces- care programs that do not have to sibility for others is not an acceptable meet quality standards even though solution.We must squarely face the many of the programs receive federal challenge of providing quality, accessi- and state funds. This system operates ble, and affordable care for all of our with state and federal money children. although it does not offer children and families basic protection under the law. 4 OVERVIEW OF CHILD CARE IN ALABAMA t Today almost 300,000 young chil- dren, ages birth to 5 years, live in Alabama.An additional 635,000 chil- dren, ages 5 to 14 years, also live here. Collectively, more than one mil- lion children in our state depend on our care and protection every day. licensed child care programs exist. The differences between the three types are as follows: Type of Program Licensed Family Day Care Homes # of Children # of Programs Served 1 – 6 children in Alabama2 1,324 An estimated 61 percent of all chil- Licensed Family dren under 6 years old live with par- Group Day Care Homes 6 – 12 children 450 ents who work. For children ages 6 to Licensed Day 17, sixty-six percent of them have Care Centers 12 + children 1,281 working parents.This means that each day approximately 700,000 chil- In addition, thousands of undocu- dren in Alabama need someone to mented, unlicensed and underground care for them as their parents go off programs operate in Alabama.These to work.1 programs have no restrictions on the Child care is the main vehicle used number of children they can serve by working families to care for their and no requirements to meet the children during hours of employ- basic Minimum Standards to protect ment.Today’s child care system is a children. Faith-based child care pro- patchwork of private and public enti- grams are exempt from meeting the ties, including public schools, Head state’s Minimum Standards for care, Start programs, relative care, and pri- even though they can receive some vate child care programs. Private federal and state funds. child care programs can be licensed, exempt from licen- sure, or unlicensed. Licensed private child care programs are required to meet an exhaustive set of Minimum Standards (131 pages worth) to ensure the safety and protection of children.Three types of 1 Children’s Defense Fund 2 Alabama Department of Human Resources, January 2005 5 Child care is expensive.A 1998 programs can choose to care for chil- Census Bureau analysis shows that no dren in the program, although the matter what the income level of the reimbursement rates for child care parents, child care is the third largest providers are as low as $52 per week expense, after housing and food, for and do not cover the actual expense families with children ages 3 to 5. of caring for children. Families who Child care can often be the single receive child care assistance are free greatest expense for working families. to choose any facility that is legally A study in Alabama shows that the operating and will accept children on top three expenses for a single parent the subsidy program. with one infant are (per month): Child care $795 Housing $613 Food $3513 The State Department of Human Resources offers limited financial assistance for some working families to help them with the expense of child care.This assistance is offered on a sliding scale so that families are required to make some contribution to their children’s care. Families who make less than 128 percent of the federal poverty level (this is equal to approximately $20,000 for a family of three) are eligible to receive financial assistance for child care. The state child care subsidy pro- gram is administered by the Depart- ment of Human Resources. Both licensed and exempt child care 3 The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Alabama, Arise Citizen’s Policy Project, February 2003 6 “. . . the state currently severely under-invests in child care, and its attempts to improve care have put quality, licensed care out of reach for thousands of families.” Alabama neglects to adequately Despite the critical importance of invest in caring for its children. investing in our children, the State of Currently, nine out of ten children Alabama has a mixed record when it who are eligible for child care assis- comes to protecting and caring for its tance in Alabama do not receive it children. For over 30 years, the child due to lack of funds.The State of care delivery system has grown in Alabama currently receives approxi- Alabama, but not without significant mately $100 million annually in feder- setbacks along the way. On the one al funds and matches approximately hand, we have witnessed increased $17 million in state dollars to run the financial investment in child care on child care subsidy program.The pro- the federal level, and the state has gram gives financial assistance to par- attempted to improve the quality of ents, pays for licensing and adminis- care. On the other hand, the state cur- trating the program, and offers some rently severely under-invests in child training to child care providers. care, and its attempts to improve care An investment in our children is an have put quality, licensed care out of investment that benefits us all. From a reach for thousands of families.A his- financial standpoint, we know that torical perspective on child care is every dollar invested in early care and helpful in understanding our chal- education today yields $7 in future lenges today. productivity gains and savings in pub- lic spending. Quality care is essential for parents and employers to main- tain a productive and functioning workforce.An investment in our chil- dren makes sense because our chil- dren are the workers and leaders of tomorrow. 7 BRIEF TIMELINE OF STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS OF CHILD CARE IN ALABAMA 1971 Alabama Child Care Act is established. This act mandates the regulation of child care facilities and establishes guidelines for a system of licensure. The primary mechanism for funding is Title IV A-B of the Social Security Act, which requires a 25 percent local match. 1974 – 75 First revision of the Minimum Standards for Child Care. These revisions also become the Code of Alabama 1975, Title 38, Chapter 7, Child Care.The standards now place a greater emphasis on training. 1977 State Citizen’s Advisory Committee for child care is created. The Department of Human Resources creates an advisory committee and holds public hearings for input into the State Plan for the use of Title XX funds. 1983 Law changes to exempt faith-based child care programs from meeting Minimum Standards. After two previous unsuccessful attempts, Governor Fob James passes a bill through the Alabama Legislature which overturns the requirement for faith-based child care pro- grams to meet the Minimum Standards. 1987 Subsidized child care in Alabama almost comes to an end. The State of Alabama comes close to ending all assistance to working families for child care. Child advocates successfully secure its continuance. 1990 – 92 Child Care Management Agencies are created. With the passage of the National Child Development Block Grant, the administration of the child care subsidy program moves from county DHR offices to a network of twelve newly created Child Care Management Agencies.The number of agencies is scaled back to seven by 2005. 8 January 2001 Revised Minimum Standards implemented. The first phase of the newly revised Minimum Standards is implemented. Major changes include requirements for increased training hours and criminal background checks for child care workers and volunteers. September 2001 Exempt programs are required to meet Minimum Standards. Governor Don Seigelman issues an executive order stating that exempt child care programs receiving state and federal funding must send in affidavits stating that they are meeting the equivalent of child care Minimum Standards. March 2003 Exempt programs again are not required to meet standards. Governor Riley issues an order rescinding the requirement for exempt programs to meet minimum child care standards. September 2004 Implementation of Phase I of staff/child ratio changes. Licensed centers are required to reduce the number of chil- dren cared for by each staff person in every age category. Licensed homes are required to count children living in the home and limit the number of children under 12 months old. September 2005 Scheduled implementation of Phase II of staff/child ratio changes. This implementation is delayed until further notice. Phase II would further reduce the number of children cared for by each staff person in nearly every age category. 9 STATE OF CHILD CARE STUDY i In the spring of 2005, the lected by face-to-face or telephone Federation of Child Care Centers of interviews Alabama (FOCAL) conducted a study The information that we gathered to assess the current state of child came from child care professionals care in Alabama. Our major concern who: was the impact of new regulations on • Come from 61 of Alabama’s 67 child care programs, children and counties families, and communities.We pre- • Serve more than 24,000 children pared and distributed by mail a sur- • Serve more than 7,000 children vey to all licensed child care pro- enrolled in the Alabama child care grams in Alabama. FOCAL staff mem- subsidy program (about 25 percent bers also traveled the state to talk of all children in the program) with people about their experiences in this changing environment. The child care professionals we We mailed surveys to 3,000 spoke with represent a broad array of licensed homes and centers in experience.They own, direct, and Alabama, and put the survey on our work in child care homes, group web site (www.focalfocal.org).We homes, and centers: contacted Child Management • 138 work in family day care homes Agencies and home providers’ and • 104 work in family group day care directors’ associations for assistance homes in collecting the surveys. Surveys • 318 work in day care centers were sent in by a broad range of child care professionals from all over They also represent many years of the state.We collected a total of: experience: • 560 surveys • More than 50 percent had over 10 • 200 (more than one-third) of the years experience total number of surveys were col- • More than 21 percent had over 20 years experience 10 Number of Years Survey Respondents Have Been Employed in Child Care 30 _____________________________________________________________________________ 25 _____________________________________________________________________________ 20 _____________________________________________________________________________ Percentage 15 _____________________________________________________________________________ 10 _____________________________________________________________________________ 5 _____________________________________________________________________________ 0 _____________________________________________________________________________ # Years less than 1 1 to 5 6 to 10 11 to 15 16 to 20 more than 20 Type of Child Care Employment for Survey Respondents Child Care Homes 25% Child Care Centers 56% Child Care Group Homes 19% 11 SUMMARY OF RESEARCH FINDINGS o Our research uncovered some dis- turbing trends in the child care indus- try. Many child care providers and families have been negatively impact- ed by recent regulatory changes, as well as by the lack of state invest- quality of care is improving for some children and families in Alabama, many families and children are being left behind. From our study we identified two major trends in the child care ment in child care over a longer term. industry. Our findings suggest that while the Trend Number One: New child care regulations are put- ting licensed, quality child care out of reach for many working families. New regulations and changes in the industry are causing financial hardships for many child care pro- grams and the working parents who depend upon their services. Child care programs are respond- ing to these new regulations by raising costs and/or cutting back on staff, offering even lower wages and benefits to workers, scaling back services, and even closing.All of these changes make quality child care less accessible and affordable for working families. Children are consequently moving into unli- censed and unregulated care. 12 Trend Number Two: Alabama promotes an unlicensed child care system and thereby fails to protect its children. As children move out of licensed and regulated care, they move into care with family or relatives, under- ground care, or exempt programs. Exempt programs in Alabama do not have to meet minimum child care stan- dards, despite the fact that many receive federal and state funding.These programs can legally serve many more children with fewer staff, and they are not man- dated to meet training or background check require- ments.The growth in the number of exempt programs means that children are located in facilities that do not have to meet the basic standards that grant children protection under the law. 13 RESEARCH FINDINGS Trend Number One: plete annual education requirements in a variety of subjects related to their New child care regulations and profession. industry changes are putting licensed, quality care out of reach for many Negative Impact working families. Both of these requirements have put substantial financial and time Changes in the child care regulations fall strains on child care providers.These into two major areas: new training requirements and required background burdens negatively impact the quality checks and new staff-to-child ratios. of care for children. • Background checks are expensive TRAINING REQUIREMENTS AND and time-consuming. CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS Background checks can take as In 2001 the Department of Human long as four to six weeks, or longer, to Resources required mandatory crimi- process. Obtaining the checks has nal background checks for child care also been a financial hardship for staff and volunteers, and additional some programs because they cost training hours for child care staff. $49 each.The process of hiring and Both of these changes were made screening is made more complex and without a thorough examination of costly, especially because substitutes the overall cost and programmatic are often transitory and new back- impact that they would have on child ground checks have to be made for care facilities.These changes have each new substitute. brought some positive benefits; they have also brought many unintended • Trainings are less accessible and negative consequences. have substantially gone up in price. Funding cutbacks at the state level Positive Impact have made child care training harder The intent of both of these laws to obtain and less convenient. Child was to improve the quality of care for Care Management Agencies, which children. In some cases, they have often provide training for providers, done exactly that. Licensed child care have been reduced in number from professionals and volunteers are now 12 to 7.Their training budgets have screened, using criminal background been cut, as well. Providers may now checks. Licensed child care profes- have to drive for hours to obtain sionals are also now required to com- training and, in some cases, pay two 14 to three times as much. Child care not attract and hold highly qualified directors are required to pay over- people, so staff turnover increases time wages to their employees to and reliability decreases.This financial attend training if the employees have pressure leads to a spiral of declining worked over 40 hours per week. care. Otherwise, the directors will be in violation of wage and hour labor • Families move from licensed to unli- laws. censed care. When child care owners do raise • Financial hardships force the child fees, many families cannot afford the care industry into a spiral of declin- increased cost of child care.They ing care. move their children out of licensed Both the background checks and care into unlicensed care. Parents do new training requirements have creat- not always know the difference ed financial hardships for some child between licensed and unlicensed care programs. Because many parents care, particularly if a program is cannot afford to pay more for child receiving state assistance. Parents care, owners of child care facilities assume (although wrongfully so), that have been very reluctant to raise fees. a child care program has to meet Instead they have cut costs in equip- Minimum Standards to be eligible to ment and supplies, maintained low serve children on the subsidy pro- wages for their staff, and eliminated gram.The fact is that exempt pro- bonuses and salary increases.The grams can care for larger numbers of average child care worker already children with fewer staff and they do makes just above minimum wage not have to meet safety and educa- ($14,280 annually).4 Low wages do tion standards. 4 US Department of Labor 15 What Child Care Providers Obtaining substitutes has been a Are Saying about Training and particular hardship for providers.As Background Checks Ms. Earlene Mitchell of Tender Touch Child Care in Madison County Child care providers have been explains, she maintains four substi- greatly impacted by the new require- tutes, in order to ensure that she will ments for training and background have one available when needed. checks. Many providers tell stories of “Though most substitutes are on having to drive for hours for training paper, I have to pay to get back- that is sometimes repetitive and not ground and medical checks for them.” always relevant. Child care directors Ms. Mitchell operates both day and also tell of delays in obtaining back- night care. Because of the low wages ground checks. One family home in the child care industry, substitutes provider in North Alabama com- are often very transitory. Each new plained that the return of Alabama substitute requires another back- Bureau of Investigation and FBI ground check, which becomes a reports can take up to two years. financial burden for providers. RATIO CHANGES required to maintain a 1:5 staff-to- Changes in the child care ratios infant ratio, as opposed to the previ- mean that child care programs in ous 1:6. Home child care providers Alabama must now employ more staff now have to count their own chil- members to care for fewer children. dren in the staff/child ratios. Ratios The first set of ratio changes, imple- for all age groups have been mented in September of 2004, raised increased. the teacher-to-child ratios in child care centers.While the regulations • Staff is hired to meet new ratio also required home providers to changes. include in their ratios children living According to the survey, 46 per- at home, this phase impacted centers cent of child care centers report hir- more severely than homes. ing new staff to meet ratio changes. Other programs did not hire new Positive Impact staff. Instead, they cut back on the • Higher staff/child ratios occur. number of children they served. Child care centers are now 16 Negative Impact some choose to close their infant • Fees rise and parents withdraw care programs, which are the most children. expensive to operate. Head Start and Fifty-seven percent of centers some school systems are increasingly reported raising fees for parents, and caring for 4- and even 3-year-olds, but 50 percent reported decreases in the infant care remains a great need in number of children served. Many par- communities. ents cannot afford increases and have put their children in cheaper and • Staff is strained to cover multiple unlicensed care. roles. Many programs report that direc- • Expenses rise and reimbursements tors are moving into classrooms to remain static. provide staff coverage to meet the Reimbursement rates for child care new ratio requirements.This stretch- providers who serve children on the ing of staff resources puts additional subsidy program have not increased strain on already stressed programs. since 2001, even though care is now more expensive to provide. In fact, • A serious threat of future closings the State of Alabama has not exists. increased its overall investment in Thirty-seven percent of currently child care during the past 10 years. operating child care programs report The state reimburses child care that they do not or may not have suf- providers for only a portion of the ficient funds to continue to operate. cost of care, and many providers sub- sidize their care for some children How Have Child Care Professionals with fees from other parents, or with Responded to Ratio Changes? their own time and contributions. Scaled Back Programs or Closed 20% Decreased the Number of Children Served 50% Raised Fees 57% • Programs close and cut back. Twenty percent of child care cen- ters surveyed reported closing or The Department of Human scaling back programs. Many pro- Resources endorsed the revised grams reported eliminating services, Minimum Standards to “improve the especially transportation, supplies, health, safety and well being of chil- enrichment programs, and infant dren in child care.”5 In support of the care. ratio changes, DHR cited child care ratio statistics from other states: 44 or • Programs eliminate infant care. more states require staff-to-child As programs face financial strain, ratios similar to those implemented in 5 Memorandum from Page B. Walley, Commissioner, February 5, 2004 17 Alabama in 2004. DHR did not, howev- expenditures.Alabama ranks as one of er, take into account a number of the lowest states in the nation in other national comparisons.Alabama income eligibility cutoffs to qualify for ranks 45th among states in the percent child care.Alabama ranks the lowest of children who are poor.Alabama in the nation for TANF cash assistance ranks 43rd among states in per-pupil (welfare).6 DHR Assumptions about Licensed Child Care in Alabama Licensed Child Care = Higher Quality Child Care Additional staff training Criminal background checks for staff Higher staff-to-child ratios Unlicensed Child Care = Lower Quality Child Care Unforeseen Consequences of DHR Child Care Policy in Alabama no additional funding children move to Licensed Licensed Unlicensed = Lower Quality Child Care Child Care Child Care Child Care Additional staff Cut-backs in programs training Fee increases Criminal background Closures checks for staff Higher staff-to-child ratios 6 254,690 poor children, or 23.6%; $5,638; 46% of median state income, compared with national average of 59%; $215 per month for a family of three. Children’s Defense Fund and Center for Law and Social Policy. What Child Care Providers Are increases.The impact has been par- ticularly severe in low-income and Saying about Ratio Changes rural areas.As Phyllis Whitlock of The stories from child care Small Miracles home child care in providers across Alabama are striking- Winston County explains,“Our area ly similar when it comes to changes is a rural area, and our parents can- in staff to child ratios.The changes not make up the difference. Many provide better care for those who programs are barely hanging on.” can afford it, but providers empha- Parents are forced to take their chil- size over and over again that many dren out of licensed programs and parents simply cannot afford the fee move them into unlicensed or under- 18 ground care arrangements. ters have responded by eliminating Child care programs are respond- infant care.As Ms. Jean Gray of Tender ing to the changes by raising fees, lay- Years in Demopolis explains,“With ing off staff, and further sacrificing the new ratio changes, I may be their own time and money. Ms. Mary forced to close my three nursery Andrews, owner of Little Voices for rooms. Due to the changes in the Jesus in Monroeville, explains,“When Minimum Standards, most centers in the revised Minimum Standards town don’t accept infants anymore.” went in effect, I lost children and The prospect of implementation of staff, and I have worked more hours the next phase of ratio changes looms without pay. I have had to fill in when large in the minds of providers. Many needed as the cook, janitor, and providers will make major changes or teacher. Because of this, I have close because they cannot afford to worked long hours to ensure that my keep operating. Ms. Patricia Whitfield office duties were complete.”A center of Rainbow Day Care Center in owner in North Alabama confirms Madison County has been in opera- that when the ratio changes went tion for 20 years, but she says that into effect, she moved into the class- when the new ratios come into effect room and gave up her salary. She and she will “probably close, or become an her husband had refinanced their exempt program, or only take school- mortgage for cash with the first revi- age children four hours per day.”This sions of the Minimum Standards. scaling back and closing of licensed Another child care provider from programs puts quality licensed child East Alabama says,“It’s an embarrass- care further out of reach for ment to say that in Alabama we pro- the families vide quality child care on the backs that most of child care providers who are paid need it. $5.15 per hour.We are at our desks from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night trying to figure out how to keep our doors open.” The changes in the ratios have par- ticularly affected infant care. Infant care is the most expensive to pro- vide, with the current staff-to-child ratio at one adult for every five infants. Consequently, child care cen- 19 Trend Number Two: Alabama promotes an unlicensed child care system and thereby fails to pro- tect and care for its children. Today the State of Alabama pro- motes two unequal systems of care for its children. Both systems receive federal and state money.The state espouses the importance of quality child care and safe environments for our children.To achieve these goals, the state administers a licensed sys- tem of child care, which is required to conform to ever more stringent regulations and requirements.The state also promotes an unlicensed sys- tem of child care. In this system, faith- Exempt centers: based child care programs are • Do not have to meet minimum exempted from meeting minimum staff-to-child ratios. requirements for child day care.The • Do not have to meet minimum state places children of families training requirements. enrolled in the child care subsidy pro- • Do not have to meet many health gram into these exempt centers, and and safety requirements. the state reimburses the facilities • Do not have to require their with state and federal dollars. employees to undergo criminal 1. Licensed child care centers: background checks. 1,324 licensed day care centers • And yet many receive federal and exist in the state of Alabama state funds to care for children in today (63%). the subsidized child care program. 2. Exempt child care centers: The State’s support of exempt care 768 exempt day care centers directly contradicts its efforts to raise exist in the state of Alabama the quality of child care in Alabama. today (37%). On the one hand, the state is pressing Currently more than 1/3 of Ala- for new standards for quality child bama’s day care centers are exempt.7 care. On the other hand, the state 7 Alabama Department of Human Resources, January 2005 20 endorses the legal operation of a church-affiliated centers had poorer whole category of programs to which staff-to-child ratios and overall lower these standards do not apply and in quality than privately operated child which children are not offered full care centers.8 protection under the law. Because exempt programs are As the regulation of licensed child released from state requirements for care increases, the cost of child care staffing, nutritional standards, train- also rises.While costs rise, child care ing, and physical layout, they are subsidy reimbursement rates remain given wide latitude in staffing and static. Child care owners who serve operating their facilities. Most of the families on the subsidy program final- states in the nation, including our ly raise their fees, and parents move neighbors Georgia and Mississippi, their children from licensed to unli- require licensing for religiously affili- censed programs. ated child care centers.Thirteen The state undermines provisions states do have religious affiliation for the basic care and protection of exemptions for child care centers, but our children by lack of funding and only six of them grant faith-based the continued tolerance of exempt exemptions that are as lenient as status. Some exempt programs pro- Alabama’s. For example, the other vide excellent care. Others, however, seven states allow exemptions only provide care that is greatly inferior to when the child care is exclusively for licensed care.A study by the National church members’ children, or the Council of Churches determined that children served are over 3 years of Alabama State Requirements for Operation Licensed Child Care Faith-Based Exempt Child Care Yes No Yes No Training for staff X X Background checks for staff X X Staff-to-child ratios X X Developmentally appropriate equipment X X Safety standards X X Educational materials X X Eligible for Food Program X X 8 National Council of Churches study, When Churches Mind the Children: A Study of Day Care in Local Parishes 21 age, or the religiously affiliated center Childcare Resources Annual Resource and receives no public funds.9 Referral Reports offer a comparison for Jefferson, Shelby, Walker and Blount In the current environment, where Counties. the state does not support licensed Fall 2003: 413 child care centers, 160 exempt child care with its policies or fund- (38.7%) ing, the number of exempt faith-based Fall 2004: 418 child care centers, 177 exempt (42.3%) child care facilities is on the rise.The available spaces for children in licensed child care facilities are decreasing. 9 National Child Care Information Center 22 What Child Care Providers Are Saying About Unlicensed Child Care Licensed child care providers across the state are outraged at the state’s unequal treatment of child care facilities and its refusal to pro- vide basic oversight for all of our chil- dren.They talk of how the state’s endorsement of exempt child care programs flatly undermines efforts to raise the quality of care for Alabama’s care, the programs that accept their children. children are required to meet the Exempt programs, while some- basic Minimum Standards. Many par- times quality programs, do not have ents move their children into unli- to meet basic minimum safety and censed care simply because it is all developmental standards set out by they can afford.They have no aware- the state. Licensed programs risk los- ness that they may be putting their ing their licenses if they violate children at risk. Minimum Standards or in any way Exempt status has become a safety put children at risk. Unlicensed pro- net for licensed child care owners grams do not face this risk because who have been forced to close their they are not monitored to ensure the doors. For some, the financial hard- safety and protection of children. ships brought on by stringent state Many parents are unaware of the regulations were too much. For oth- difference between licensed and unli- ers, they were not able to manage censed programs.They assume facilities that reached the quality (although incorrectly) that because demanded by the state regulations.A the state is assisting them with child number of these programs have “Many parents move their children into unlicensed care simply because it is all they can afford.” 23 reopened as exempt programs, low- a result of poor nutrition and activity ered their standards, and continued to deprivation, the child is way behind receive state subsidy payments.This in its development.The child will go trend in our state towards unlicensed to school and need special education care upsets and dismays licensed there. Michelle asks,“Why does the child care owners and directors. state choose to allow inadequate, and Michelle Sampson, owner of Arab even harmful, programs to operate, Kids Kollege in Arab, expressed her when the consequences for the state frustration. She presently has a young are extremely costly?” child enrolled in her center who for- merly attended an exempt facility.As 24 RESEARCH CONCLUSIONS t The Department of Human increased funding, are driving up Resources, the Governor, and the the cost of licensed quality child Alabama Legislature have all made sig- care, and parents are leaving for nificant changes in the child care unlicensed care. industry during the past few years. • The state of Alabama is encouraging Many of the changes were intended the movement to unlicensed care to improve the quality of care for by exempting faith-based programs children and families. However, many from minimum care standards. of these changes have had a negative • Child care that does not have to impact on the industry and on work- meet the minimum safety and ing families. developmental standards threatens Child care today is threatened by to put children at risk. rising costs, new regulations without • As child care becomes less stable compensation, stagnant reimburse- and safe, parents become less reli- ment rates, and a booming under- able on their jobs.The crisis in child ground and unlicensed system.The care has a ripple effect through collective changes in the industry places of employment and within have created an intolerable burden. our communities. Specifically: • Training requirements and mandato- ry criminal background check requirements, implemented without proper financial support, are caus- ing financial hardships for child care programs and the families who depend on them. • Higher staff-to-child ratios in their current form, unsupported by 25 STUDY RECOMMENDATIONS t The problems outlined in this study are not beyond our repair. In fact, with political will and the incred- ible efforts of thousands of child care professionals, in cooperation with local and state officials, we could solve many of these problems.The question is, are state officials in obligation to Alabama families.The solutions to improve our system are not always easy or obvious, and new regulations and initiatives must be undertaken with a thorough under- standing and anticipation of their consequences. Our child care system is coming Alabama willing to accept the chal- undone.And yet we envision a system lenge of providing a decent minimum that could come together and truly level of care for all the children in benefit and support families and com- our state? munities in Alabama.We know that We ask the governing bodies of care for our children is the lifeblood our state to follow through on their of our communities:With a strong 26 beginning, our children will move our s Uphold a minimum level of safety communities and our state forward. and standard of care for all children: We owe every family a system of care • End the special treatment for that protects, nurtures, and prepares exempt centers receiving federal our children for the responsibilities of and state funds and mandate that tomorrow. they meet the basic Minimum FOCAL and our allies advocate for Standards. a system of child care that: • Ensure that all new quality initia- • Provides accessible and affordable tives are applied across the board care for all of Alabama’s children; for child care programs. • Upholds a minimum level of safety • Ensure that new quality initia- and standard of care for all chil- tives are implemented only with dren; proper financial support and • Is forged from a deep partnership understanding of their full impli- between child care professionals, cations for children and families. families, government entities, child advocates and the private and reli- s Forge a strong partnership gious sector. between child care professionals, families, government entities, child In order to make this vision a reali- advocates and the private and reli- ty, we will have to use our best think- gious sector: ing and mobilize a strong commit- • Create strong partnerships ment to develop solutions in these between child care providers, three areas. Some specific steps are: families, government entities, s Provide accessible and affordable child advocates, and the private care for all of Alabama’s children: and religious sector to develop • Dramatically increase the state’s creative solutions to the child investment in child care to care crisis. ensure that all families that quali- • Work with child care providers fy for assistance have access to to accurately assess the real cost care. of providing care for children • Maintain and promote a child and reimburse them at a fair and care delivery system that is adequate rate. accessible and responsive to the • Develop initiatives and regula- needs of families and child care tions in partnership with all providers. involved parties. 27 “We owe every family a system of care that protects, nurtures, and prepares our children for the responsibilities of tomorrow.” Our study revealed that Alabama’s child care system is coming undone. Many years ago we created a set of The Federation of Child Care Minimum Standards for child care, Centers of Alabama believes that we to protect the health, safety, and well have a commitment to protect our being of children.That safety net is children, all of our children.We coming unraveled, allowing children endorse a system of accountability for to fall through the holes. all facilities providing care to young Many threads are no longer hold- children.We do not mean to suggest ing securely: that accidents cannot happen any- • Children are moving into unli- where. However, we are committed censed and exempt child care to providing the greatest level of pro- arrangements at an increasing tection possible. rate. Here they are not afforded We believe that we owe children legal protection from pedophiles an investment in resources to require and unsafe conditions.They are inspection of the credentials and con- not assured of learning, discover- ditions where children receive care. ing, and growing in stimulating What happens in license-exempt and appropriate environments. child care centers is unknown to reg- • Licensed child care programs are ulating authorities. giving up the struggle to main- Not all licensed child care pro- tain quality and remain afford- grams are as good as we would like. able.They are closing. Not all exempt child care programs • Some child care programs, are bad. However, we commit our- unable to maintain the selves to upholding a system of Minimum Standards for licens- accountability that demonstrates our ing, are closing and then reopen- responsibility to protect, nurture, and ing in the same location as faith- encourage our children to develop to based exempt programs.As their full potential. exempt programs they are not Our children deserve no less. responsible for upholding the Minimum Standards. The Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama FOCAL is a 501 (c) (3) statewide For more information log onto nonprofit membership organization, our website or contact the FOCAL comprised of over 500 child care office at: centers and home providers, early childhood educators, parents and FOCAL, Inc. child advocates. Our mission is to PO Box 214 measurably improve the lives of chil- Montgomery,AL 36101-0214 dren and families through advocacy, child care training and leadership Tel: (334) 262-3456 development. Outside Montgomery: (800) 300-0232 FOCAL is a grassroots organization, Email: Focalfocal@bellsouth.net founded in 1972, led by its constitu- Web: www.focalfocal.org ency and committed to empowering low-income and African-American communities.We run a number of programs, including a community development initiative Communities Act to Create Hope (CATCH™). We are the state lead organization for the FEDERATION OF CHILD CARE Southern Rural Black Women’s CENTERS OF ALABAMA, INC. Initiative (SRBWI).We also provide consultation to other organizations to help them to improve their organiz- ing and develop powerful tools for transforming poor communities and communities of color.
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