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Inadequate Laws Put Children in Day Care at Risk, CDF Says

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Inadequate laws in many states are putting the health and safety of millions of children in day care at risk, a new Children's Defense Fund report contends.

The study, which tracked states' licensing requirements for child care, found that states tended to upgrade their standards for licensure between 1990 and 1993, the latest year for which data are available.

But, the report says, many states still do not require that child-care workers be trained in first aid or that children attending the centers have basic immunizations.

Many states do not ban smoking around children nor do they require that all child-care facilities be equipped with smoke detectors.

Still others do not enforce recommended child-to-staff ratios, limits on numbers of children in a group, and policies on parental access to facilities.

The national children's advocacy group, based in Washington, says the situation could get worse as Congress moves to cut back the funds and provisions many states use to improve protections for children.

"I find it incredibly tragic that with so much improvement needed, Congress may be on the verge of eliminating strong tools states have to make their child-care regulations and enforcement better," said Gina Adams, the author of the CDF report, "How Safe? The Status of State Efforts To Protect Children in Child Care," which was released late last month.

Possible federal cutbacks include money given to states to improve children's safety and development in child care, satisfy requirements that publicly financed child-care facilities meet the minimum health and safety regulations set by the state, and guarantee that child-care and Head Start programs serve nutritious meals.

The Children's Defense Fund study follows a report released earlier this year in which researchers at several universities found that states with the weakest licensing requirements had the poorest quality of care in their centers. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

Falling Short

Ms. Adams found that as of 1993, 45 states required children in child-care centers or family-day-care homes to have basic immunizations. Still, five states--Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and South Carolina--fell short of this basic protective measure, and many more did not mandate the more recently recommended vaccinations against bacterial meningitis and hepatitis B.

Twenty-two states did not require any staff member in family-care homes to have first-aid training, and 16 did not require that the homes have both fire drills and smoke detectors.

Looking to Research

Among other findings, the study showed that many states have ignored research that says too many children per staff member and too many children in a group can hinder safety and development.

Eighteen states allowed one caregiver to be responsible for five 6-month-olds; experts recommend that a single caregiver oversee no more than three or four infants. Idaho allowed one caregiver for 12 infants.

Nearly half the states did not limit the number of children in a group. And, if they did set group limits, many did not adhere to the recommended levels.

To encourage more cooperative and creative play and to ensure that children have better interaction with teachers, experts say there should be no more than six to eight children in a single group for children younger than 1, six to 12 children for 1- and 2-year-olds, 14 to 20 children for 3-year-olds, and 16 to 20 for 4- and 5-year-olds.

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