A report released last month, “Leaving Children to Chance,” details a deficiency in child care standards: child care programs based in homes are often insufficiently regulated by states. The report, released by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (now known as Child Care Aware of America), is an update to the organization’s 2010 rankings of state regulations of small family child care programs.
Of the nearly 11 million children under age 5 currently in child care settings, almost 15 percent attend family child care programs. NACCRRA ranked each state on 16 different metrics for quality in “family child care homes” – programs in which home-based providers are paid to take care of children of different ages, such as sets of siblings from different families. The NACCRRA report looked at whether states required background checks and minimum education credentials for providers, set standards for quality of care, and encouraged parent engagement. When the states were ranked on an A-F grade scale, not a single state scored above a B. The average score across all states was 46 percent – an F.
In 27 states, providers are not required to obtain a license unless they care for at least four children in the home, leaving many children in unregulated settings. NACCRRA could not provide scores for the eight states that fail to license family childcare homes with fewer than six children; and it assigned scores of zero to another eight states that do not inspect homes before licensing them as childcare centers.
Twenty-six states do not require more than a high school education for providers. While most states (34) require basic health and safety training, only 22 require providers to have some initial training in child development.
Thirty-six states require providers to plan various learning activities for enrolled children, but only 18 require they read to children, and just 11 require them to introduce children to basic math. South Carolina and Texas do not specify any requirements that providers must address across the 10 basic safety domains measured by NACRRA.
Still, NACCRRA found some improvements since 2010. A new 2011 law in Kansas requiring licensing for small family child care homes increased both safety and quality standards for enrolled children, and the report now ranks the state third. Georgia, which in 2010 scored zero points because it did not inspect small family childcare providers before licensing, has since changed its policy and was ranked 11th this year.
Although most of the standards in question refer to state policies, more than $5 billion in federal funds went to child care in fiscal year 2012 through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Child Care Entitlement to States. About 322,000 children covered by these federal funding streams are in legal but unregulated settings, according to 2010 data. CCDBG funds have limited regulations attached to them – states must protect children’s health and safety, but the law does not specify how states should meet that requirement, nor does it require a minimum licensing standard.
The NACCRRA report makes a number of recommendations for Congress to include when it takes up CCDBG reauthorization, which is well overdue, having last been reauthorized in 1996. Among the recommendations are that states should be required to set stricter background checks for providers, increase inspections of licensed family child care homes and implement stronger standards for training and education of providers. Additionally, the report proposes that Congress increase the minimum spending on quality assurance from 4 percent to 12 percent, eventually growing it to match the Head Start federal set-aside of 25 percent.
The report does not address states’ tight funding situation in the wake of the recession, nor does it describe the shortages in federal funding that could result from deficit-reduction efforts in Congress. Providers have argued that they can only afford improvements in quality, including additional training and credentials, by either raising tuition rates for parents or by receiving more public subsidies or vouchers.
Still, CCDBG reauthorization, especially if coupled with adequate funding at the federal level, could be a powerful way to ensure that children in home-based programs receive high-quality care.
For each state’s scores, see the scorecards available here.