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Unlicensed child care not a solution to shortages

Johnson City Press • Feb 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Finding suitable and affordable child care undoubtedly is a struggle for many working families, particularly those without abundant resources.

We applaud state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Bountville, for seeking a solution, but we can’t agree with the details of his proposed legislation that would allow for more unlicensed care in rural counties.

As Press Staff Writer Jonathan Roberts reported in Thursday’s edition, Hill’s bill would allow unlicensed child care providers to furnish child care for up to 10 children in counties with a population of less than 50,000. The state currently allows an unlicensed provider to care for no more than four unrelated children. While facilities would still be subject to Tennessee Department of Human Services regulations, the bill would require care providers to undergo only 10 hours of training.

We echo the concerns expressed by Unicoi Child Care Center owner Sandy Gouge, who called allowing unlicensed facilities to care for so many children “mind-boggling” and the 10-hour requirement “almost absurd.” Tennessee has scores of detailed licensing requirements and care standards, yet Hill’s bill would shovel that into less time than it takes to complete a week’s worth of high school homework.

The state’s “frequently asked questions” pages alone include such details as physical/mental examinations required of staff, background checks, education requirements for center directors, supervision planning, the use of blankets and mats, the application of sunscreen and diaper ointment, the use of pacifiers, how microwaves are used, drug screenings for drivers, identification requirements for those who check children in and out of facilities. That’s a fraction of the concerns involved.

State licensing standards exist for a reason, and in this case, child safety is the overriding consideration. The fact that the bill would require parents to sign waivers acknowledging the provider is unlicensed says it all. The risk is evident in the bill’s own language.

It’s true the needs of Tennessee families are not being met. A recent study reported 98 percent of parents surveyed in the Tri-Cities area said inadequate child care hurt their work productivity or opportunities. The report put the dollar figure on lost earnings, production and revenues at $43 million in the upper eight counties alone.

Tennessee has to find ways to make care more accessible, but not at the cost of endangering children. What Hill called a “medium step” toward a solution would in reality be a major step back.

Sound policy never arises from desperation, and this bill would be a rash act.

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