Lowering licensing standards for child care is not the answer

The Washington Post had an article this week that left me scratching my head. The story, "D.C. day-care licensing criticized," was ostensibly about would-be child care providers complaining about the barriers to entry to opening a licensed community or home-based child care center in the District. 

One of the women profiled lives with four young foster children, her nieces and nephews, whom she watches in her small home in Southeast, along with five dogs and a cat, and her own grown children. She is hoping to get certified as a child care provider and be able to take in two more children and get reimbursements for her foster children. If she takes in an assistant, she can watch a dozen children for about $100 a day, according to the article. She has already quit her government job in this pursuit, but has run into many obstacles in getting licensed. 

Without knowing this woman or having observed her watching the children in her home, I cannot say whether she has what it takes to be a qualified child care provider. But let's just say the short profile raised some concerns, not the least of which are safety and cleanliness, given her many pets. Do we really want to lower standards to allow more people to open their homes as centers?

D.C. has some of the highest standards for quality in child care -- the second-highest in the nation, according to NACCRRA (the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies). These high standards make it difficult for just anyone to open a child care center, and I would think that any parent would agree that's a very good thing. However, when viewed from the perspective of an aspiring entrepreneur who wishes to get into the child care business, those high standards can be a bit more than frustrating. 

Instead of lowering the standards, we need to help aspiring and current providers meet them by providing technical and professional development support and resources. As you can see from the map on our home page, the District does not have nearly enough licensed child care slots to accommodate all the young children who need them, particularly in Wards 1, 5, 7 and 8. We need to expand capacity, but not at the expense of quality.

We also need to take time to celebrate our outstanding child care providers, who not only meet those standards but exceed them in many cases.

Yesterday DC Action Executive Director HyeSook Chung and I attended a luncheon on Capitol Hill honoring outstanding child care providers from across the country. The third annual awards ceremony was hosted by PBS stations, including the local WETA and southern California's KCET, as well as the network's informational series, "A Place of Our Own" (and its Emmy-winning Spanish-language version, "Los Ninos En Su Casas". The series provides useful information and online resources and training for child care providers who watch children in their own home. 

Ms. Melbert Johnson of the District was one of the 17 honorees. With more than 40 years of experience caring for children and military families, she offers child care 23 hours a day to allow parents to work their required shifts without worry. She is accredited by NACCRRA and also attends ongoing training to improve her skills. We were proud to be there to witness her receiving the award. Ms. Johnson is just one of many unsung heros in the District who provide outstanding care, education and love for other people's children.  

Congratulations, Ms. Johnson and to all of D.C.'s finest child care providers. We depend on you more than you know and we can never thank you enough for your hard work and dedication. 

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