Every parent familiar with the noisy and chaotic, physically, mentally and emotionally demanding reality of taking care of even one or two children – which is to say, every parent – owes respect bordering on awe for those who responsibly take care of many.
There are few if any more valuable services than those who do child care well. There should be no quarter of benefit of the doubt for those who do it badly.
Fortunately, there are far more of the former. Tragically, there are far too many of the latter, and a recent analysis published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicates that a thorough assessment of Georgia’s child care licensing and oversight is long overdue.
There are 6,686 licensed child care providers in the state, 436 of which have been hit with severe penalties over the last five years. That suggests the overwhelming majority of licensed day care operations are run responsibly and some excellently.
But there are uglier numbers, like 239 child injuries and eight deaths over those five years. That’s small as a percentage, huge as a reality of abject and sometimes tragic failure. Some of the violations boggle the mind: The wrong child released to a blind grandfather; two children kidnapped by a provider’s boyfriend; at least 50 children wandering away from day care centers.
And while the state Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) has suspended or revoked the licenses of the worst offenders – most recently a center in Jonesboro where a child died after being left in a hot car on a field trip – the analysis showed that Georgia is less likely to close centers for serious violations than are neighboring states.
Instead, the AJC reported, almost 90 percent of the severe violations, known as “adverse actions,” involved fines. A center in Kennesaw, for example, where a 7-year-old climbed a fence and wandered more than two miles was fined $299.
To the director of a national advocacy organization, the analysis is a red flag: Linda Smith of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies called Georgia’s “a broken system that really needs to be scrubbed.”
The head of that system acknowledges that it is in need of independent review.
“I am concerned that we have not taken a close look at our system in many years,” said DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle. “I think it was 1987 since the last time the system had an outside expert come in and take a look at it.”
That’s not good enough. Not for working parents who put the most precious part of their lives in the care of people the state certifies as qualified to discharge that responsibility; and not for the state itself, which should be doing a better job of nurturing its most valuable assets.
Certainly not for the children.