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States Tightening Child-Care Rules

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Chicago--Most states have strengthened their child-care regulations in recent years by lowering child-staff ratios, adding new training requirements, and mandating a larger role for parents, according to a national study released here.

Findings from the study, presented at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, showed that 41 states have updated their child-care requirements in the past five years. Nineteen have done so since 1985.

The regulatory changes generally point to "a trend to improve the quality" of child care, said Gwen Morgan, who conducted the study as a policy consultant for Work/Family Directions, a consulting firm based in Watertown, Mass.

The firm, which manages child-care resource and referral services for national corporations, began tracking day-care regulations by state in 1983. It compiled and analyzed the data for the first time in its new report, "The National State of Child Care Regulation 1986."

Among the key findings:

More than half the states require child-staff ratios of no more than 8 to 1 for 3-year-olds. Sixteen states mandate ratios of no more than 10 to 1 for 4-year-olds.

Although educational requirements and preservice-training standards vary, 26 states require annual training for teachers or caregivers.

States indicated a "a beginning interest in upgrading the qualifications of center directors." Twelve states call for continuing training for center directors, and six have begun requiring courses in administration as well as child development for directors.

All but two states, Idaho and Wyoming, mandate that child-care programs be developmental in nature, and 24 states require centers to state their educational philosophy.

These findings show that the concept of "custodial" day care "has pretty much been defined out of existence," Ms. Morgan said.

The study also highlights a "trend toward separate, age-appropriate requirements" in the approaches used for infants, toddlers, and pre-school children in child-care centers.

Public concern over "potential sexual abuse" in day-care centers has also prompted several states to strengthen parental-involvement policies, the study shows. For example, 38 states provide guidelines on parent visits and 18 states give parents a legal right to visit centers unannounced.

Despite improvements in standards governing child-staff ratios, the study found that states "have not responded to current knowledge" in their regulation of overall group size in child-care centers.

Rules on Overall Size Lacking

Despite research citing the benefits of smaller group sizes, the study says less than half the states regulate group size in centers serving preschool children and that about half regulate it in those serving infants and toddlers.

Of states that specify group size, very few meet guidelines recommended by the 1977 National Day Care Study, Ms. Morgan said.

The number of children permitted in "family day care" provided in private residences by caregivers other than parents also remains high in some states, she said. Eleven states permit family-day-care providers to care for five or more babies without an assistant.

The study also found that:

Arizona, Idaho, and Nebraska are the only states that do not have an immunization requirement for preschool children in centers.

Health requirements in child-care facilities have been strengthened, but regulations calling for preventive sanitary practices still are deficient in some states.

Less than half the states require liability insurance for centers.

Few states exempt church-run programs from child-care licensing requirements.

Copies of the report can be ordered for $25 each from the n.a.e.y.c., 1834 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.

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