Alex--tax reform by DeanSampson



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.

    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

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
                                                 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


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


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.


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
                                                            Licensed Family
                                                            Day Care Homes
                                                                              # of Children # of Programs

                                                                              1 – 6 children
                                                                                             in Alabama2

   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
   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

                   “. . . 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

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.

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
                 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

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.

                                                       STATE OF CHILD
                                                       CARE STUDY

    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 (              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
                      Number of Years Survey Respondents Have Been
                                 Employed in Child Care
             30 _____________________________________________________________________________

             25 _____________________________________________________________________________

             20 _____________________________________________________________________________

             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

                    Child Care

                                                                       Child Care
                                                                      Group Homes


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.

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.


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
                                                    and time-consuming.
                                                     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

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

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

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

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-

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-

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

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

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
child care facilities is on the rise.The
available spaces for children in
licensed child care facilities are

9 National Child Care Information Center

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.”

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


   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.
• 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


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
                                                    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

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.

  “We owe every family a
    system of care that
 protects, nurtures, and
prepares our children for
 the responsibilities of
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:
founded in 1972, led by its constitu-     Web:
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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