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Child Care Licensing Caseloads Are Dangerously High
By Yvonne Gando

New research uncovers a dangerously high number of caseloads for childcare state licensing, which leads to fewer inspections for the facilities that care for the 9 million children across the United States. The National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA), in collaboration with the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC), just released this study, entitled the 2005 Child Care Licensing Study, revealing the potential threat to the health and safety of children in childcare facilities across the county.

This report is the first to collect data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and analyze that data at national and state-by-state levels. The found, on average, that each childcare facility is monitored only once per year. Licensing is defined by the report as: "..a process administered by state governments that sets a baseline of requirements below which it is illegal for facilities to operate. States have regulations that include the requirements facilities must comply with and policies to support the enforcement of those regulations." Licensing is essential to the prevention of harm to children, including health and safety risks, injury, developmental impairment, fire and building hazards, adequate supervision, and developmentally appropriate activities.

The purpose of the study was two-fold: 1) to report state care licensing programs and policies and 2) to report childcare center licensing regulations. NARA distributed the 2005 NARA Child Care Licensing Program Survey to all state childcare licensing agencies in order to gather information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report compiled data on childcare facility requirements, including education and training of childcare staff, supervision of children in care (child-staff ratios), health, nutrition, behavior guidance, and specialized care, activities, materials and equipment facilities are to provide, and finally, environmental safety, health safety, hygiene, transportation, and emergency preparedness.

Judy Collins, president of NARA, states that regulations alone are not enough to ensure that children are free from harm: "It does not matter how good the licensing requirements are; if they are not enforced, they do little to protect children…Just as speed limits may be ignored if not enforced, child care regulations are most effective in protecting children if facilities are regularly inspected by the licensing agency."

While the infrequency of inspections being conducted is cause for concern, this is simply one part of the equation. The quality of regulations enforced is another element that needs to be addressed when evaluating the quality, performance and safety of childcare facilities.

Gwen Morgan, founding director of the Center for Career Development in Early Care and Education at Wheelock College, underlines the problem with licensing variables across the states. She points out that many people, parents included, hold the misperception that top quality state requirements and excellent standards are necessarily adhered to: "Quality cannot be pursued from licensing regulations. Licensing is responsible only for the prevention of harm to children. Quality can be found in higher levels of standards such as accreditation and increased training and qualifications for child care staff. Changes in procedural rules and policies may work to improve quality by removing needless barriers, but rules that are designed for prevention of harm to children need to be preserved from the anti-regulatory movement" (Morgan, 1996).

The 2005 Child Care Licensing Study concludes that "strong licensing policies and regulations are key to ensuring the health and safety of our nation's children who spend time in out-of-home care" Furthermore, the report acknowledges that more research is needed to determine which of the licensing policies, procedures and regulations are most effective in protecting children from harm. The hope and intent of those conducting the study was to inform those in the early childhood and regulatory industries, as well as spur further analysis on this groundbreaking topic.

Yvonne Gando is Assistant Editor at Earlychildhood NEWS.

National Association for Regulatory Administration and the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center. "The 2005 Child Care Licensing Study: Final Report." retrieved from http://nara.affiniscape.com/associations/4734/files/2005%20Licensing%20Study%20Final%20Report_Web.pdf.

Morgan, Gwen. "Regulation and the Prevention of Harm," retrieved from