Operators of unlicensed daycare facilities that receive public money would have to undergo training or ensure they had adequate staffing under proposals being considered by lawmakers ahead of the 2014 legislative session.
The moves to improve the safety of unlicensed day cares come as concern rises over the number of deaths in Indiana’s child-care facilities. An investigation by the Indianapolis Star found that 15 of the 21 daycare deaths since 2009 occurred in unlicensed or illegal facilities. Nine of those deaths were reported in 2012.
“If you take government money, then you should be held to a higher standard,” said Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, chairman of a study committee looking at child-care safety.
Indiana already requires home daycare providers who look after six or more children not related to them to be trained in health and safety precautions and follow strict safe-sleep procedures. But homes with five or fewer are unlicensed and are not subject to state scrutiny.
Lawmakers this year began requiring unlicensed daycares that receive federal dollars to have written discipline policies, ensure that toilets flush properly — and that employees wash their hands — and employ only primary caregivers who are at least 18 years old.
They also began requiring all licensed day cares, and unlicensed ones that receive federal money, to conduct national criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers every three years.
The new measures being considered would expand state rules for more than 1,000 daycares but would not affect those that are exempt.
Advocates say Indiana needs tougher rules. Ten states license any home that takes in one child, and at least 39 are more aggressive about safety than Indiana is, according to Child Care Aware of America.
Dianna Wallace, executive director at the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children, said Indiana needs to step up its regulations.
“If they are caring for two or more unrelated children … they need to be regulated,” she said. “Period.”
Lawmakers are receptive to measures that would improve safety but question whether licensing more homes would prevent deaths.
“Ultimately, I don’t see us as being able to solve every problem we have out there with legislation,” Wesco said.
He noted that small providers are essential resources in many rural counties.
“If the small provider has to go through all the paperwork and the challenge of becoming licensed, are they going to even bother with it? And what does that do with parents’ access to finding someone to watch their kids while they’re at work?”
Indiana currently has 27 daycare inspectors and spends $2.5 million a year to license and inspect the more than 4,700 facilities under state oversight.