Day care surveyor: Parents should ensure their children are in licensed child care facilities

Illegal day care is a problem in northeast Kansas, according to Susan McDonald, RN, who became Osage County Health Department’s child care licensing surveyor in June.

“There are 32 licensed facilities in the county at this time and it is estimated that there are many more that are not licensed or regularly inspected by the county surveyor,” McDonald said. “Across the country there are thousands of unlicensed and therefore unregulated day cares.”

McDonald said that as parents shop for day care many times they are forced to choose a provider based on costs.

“This is an unfortunate choice because many times the lower cost providers are not licensed,” she said. “That is not always the case, but parents need to check that the facility is licensed.”

Many parents are also confused about the reasoning and benefits of a licensed day care, she said. The difference between licensed and unlicensed is often about safety.

“When a child is in a licensed facility or home they know that workers have had a KBI criminal background check on everyone over 11 years old that will be living or in the home for any amount of time,” she said.

She also noted that staff in a licensed day care have had medical examinations by a doctor stating they are mentally and physically healthy enough to take care of multiple children. The staff in a licensed day care also has a state mandated child to staff ratio to ensure the supervision of the children in care is adequate.

“Documentation of safety issues such as a check by the State Fire Marshal’s Office is often not done in unlicensed care centers,” McDonald said. “Other items routinely checked in the licensed day cares are fire and tornado drills being done with a safety plan in place, documentation of legal workers, and adequate space and bathrooms for the number of children being cared for.”

As there are many reasons to select a licensed day care, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has provided an online method to check on licenses and history of homes or facilities. Parents can visit the KDHE web site to search for licensed day care facilities in their area at www.kdheks.gov/bcclr/index.html, or check the compliance history of a day care facility at www.kdheks.gov/bcclr/capp.htm.

Parents are advised to ensure the person caring for their child is operating a licensed day care, by visiting the KDHE web site, or by calling Child Care Aware, an agency that supports quality care for children and helps day care providers and parents, at 877-678-2548. Parents can also call Child Care Aware for assistance in finding a licensed day care.

McDonald said some significant changes were made in child care licensing supervision and care regulations in 2010, due to Lexie’s Law which state lawmakers passed after a 13-month-old suffered fatal injuries at a day care home in Johnson County in 2004.

“Many changes were brought about by this Lexie’s Law that included the mandate that all child care facilities be licensed and inspected regularly,” she said. “Other changes the law brought about were more inspections in licensed facilities and homes in each county. These changes and additional surveys only protect the children that are in legal licensed day cares. The concern is for those that are not.”

In 2010 the Kansas Action for Children estimated that 27 children in Kansas have died in child care settings since 2007. These were not all unlicensed facilities but many were.  Most recently was a death in Topeka in 2013 in an unlicensed day care.

“If you see or know of illegal day care occurring in Osage County please call the health department to report it,” McDonald said. “It is important that we stop illegal day care. Most of those providers are caring and responsible people who can become licensed within a short time.”

Licensing in Kansas requires an application, professional training, yearly fees to both KDHE and the county health department, and routine inspections by the health department.

McDonald said that Osage County has a need for more licensed day care providers in every town, and noted several organizations are available to help with training and food programs for day care facilities.

McDonald is the only surveyor in Osage County and works through a health department contract with KDHE.  For more information, contact her at the Osage County Health Department at 785-828-3117 ext. 2.


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