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Guest View— On safe child care

Safe and affordable child care will remain out of reach for many until we consider such care to be an entitlement and support it on that basis.

The vacancy rate at licensed care centers in Buncombe County hovers around 1 percent and the wait for infants can be three months to a year. That leaves many mothers the options of quitting work and using an unregulated care center.

As the county’s population grows, the availability of licensed care has decreased. The number of licensed in-home providers has fallen from 51 to 26 since January 2005. At the same time, the number of care centers has fallen from 126 to 108.

One factor is economic pressure, especially on the smaller in-home centers. “While families pay a lot of money for child care, providing child care is also expensive,” said Susan Perry-Manning of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s a volatile business market; it’s really hard to make your business work financially.”

A bigger issue, many operators say, is overregulation. They fear the new licensing requirements, such as additional training and more thorough home inspections, threaten their right to privacy and will be expensive and challenging to implement.

“Day cares are dropping like flies, and it is only going to get worse,” Kathy Tolar, who runs Kathy’s Kiddie Land in Swannanoa, told operators who had gathered to discuss their problems. “The main thing is if we don’t have a resolution to the situation, child care homes will not open.

“Parents will be unable to work for a lack of child care, which will cause a major impact on the economy, and illegal day care will be in abundance with no state supervision,” she said.

Home child care providers struggle to stay in business

A particular irritant is new requirements that all of a home used for child care, even areas where the children do not go, be inspected. “It’s an invasion of privacy and it’s a violation of Fourth Amendment rights,” said Tolar. “We have a business in our homes, but at the end of the day, it is still our home.”

We can understand her frustration. On the other hand, the use of other areas in an in-home center could affect the children. Inspectors once discovered a provider operating a meth lab in the basement, Perry-Manning said. In another case, a family had a downstairs club that served alcohol to adults.

Regulations should be examined on a regular basis, and those that are needlessly excessive should be rolled back. Another issue is zoning rules that unfairly restrict centers, especially in-home centers. But safety must be foremost, and if that drives up costs, so be it.

There is, however, a larger problem. Care costs from $100 to $1,000 a week, which already puts it beyond the means of many people. We are deluding ourselves if we pretend that many children are not either housed in unlicensed centers or left alone. As the shortage of licensed centers worsens, so will this neglect.

Once upon a time, wives stayed home with their children. If they had to work, other relatives were available to provide care. Today, with most wives working because they must and families scattered around the land, child care is a necessity.

“For us to keep a good system of family day care homes, we may need to rethink the way we support the work that they do,” said Sheila Hoyle, executive director of Southwestern Child Development Commission. “We want to offer as many options for parents as we can.”

The goal must be safe and affordable care for all children. We owe them no less.

— from the Asheville Citizen-Times.

 

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