Pa. to step up oversight of child care facilities after U.S. audit finds health, safety violations

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    Pennsylvania state officials say they plan to step up oversight of private homes offering child care after a federal audit found a high number of health and safety violations.

     

    They say they want to raise the bar for quality in what has been a lightly regulated industry.

    “Unfortunately, I’m not shocked” by the audit’s findings,” said Shawn Towey, a child care specialist with the advocate group Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “I think that family child care homes have for a long time needed more oversight.”

    State law allows home-based providers to take care for up to six children at a time in a private residence. Federal auditors inspected 20 homes offering government-subsidized child care across the state, and found health and safety code violations and administrative lapses in 17 of them.

    Sharon Easterling of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children said such findings should come as no surprise. She says current licensing policies aren’t strong enough to ensure quality. State officials don’t even visit a prospective home before licensing it, she said.

    “You are required to attend an orientation session, and then you have the criminal checks, the background checks. But beyond that, it’s paperwork,” Easterling said. “You sign something that says, ‘I understand and comply with the regulations,’ and you send it in.”

    Towey said she’s pleased to see that under Gov. Tom Wolf, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is moving to strengthen regulations and inspections of child care providers. It’s a move made necessary in part by changing federal requirements.

    “We’re very happy that under the new federal regulations the state will be hiring more inspectors and doing at least yearly inspections,” Towey said.

    Pennsylvania officials say they’ve revoked the license of at least one provider and corrected the problems in other centers.

    But they also want to strengthen the state’s licensing regulations and increase the number of random inspections. Typically, the state inspects just 10 percent of its child care providers each year. DHS officials say they want stiffer rules for licensing, and more frequent inspections.

    Among the recommendations: Requiring them to participate in Pennsylvania’s voluntary quality ratings, known as the Keystone Stars system.

    “One of the things that we’re doing as an initial step is that in order to receive some Child Care Works funding in the future, that programs need to be participating in Keystone Stars,” said Tracy Campanini, an acting deputy secretary in DHS. “So while that’s not a systemwide mandate, it’s definitely moving in the right direction.”

    Campanini said the state is requesting over $11 million in new funds to help child care providers climb the Keystone rating system, adding stars as they add quality services to their organizational portfolio.  DHS also intends to start making unannounced visits to its child care providers at least once a year. Her department will be hiring about 50 new inspectors to handle the job.

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