State’s Early Childhood Director Wants Better Oversight

The director of the state’s Office of Early Childhood said Thursday she supports increasing the frequency of health and safety inspections of child care facilities, in the wake of a C-HIT story detailing lapses in oversight.

“We’re definitely looking into adding inspectors and increasing the inspection frequency” to once a year, said Myra Jones-Taylor, who took the helm of the new office in July. “We’re very much focused on the opportunities we have to improve oversight.”

Jones-Taylor’s comments follow a December story by C-HIT that detailed lapses in oversight of the state’s child care centers and family day care homes. A national report by Child Care Aware of America ranks Connecticut 48th in oversight of child care centers, with the third highest caseload per inspector in the country. Connecticut inspects centers once every two years -- far less frequently than the Child Care Aware recommendation of quarterly inspections – and rarely revokes or suspends providers’ licenses after violations are cited, the C-HIT review found.

Jones-Taylor’s office is charged with coordinating early childhood services and will take over health and safety oversight of child care facilities in July, when inspectors are shifted from the Department of Public Health. Jones-Taylor said moving inspections into her agency will allow the state to oversee all aspects of child care provision – health, safety and educational quality – with a centralized team, rather than piecemeal.

She said she believes the state has “the political will” to strengthen oversight, which was found lacking in a recent federal audit of family day care homes, now inspected only once every three years.

In addition to increasing inspections, preliminary findings of a consultants’ assessment of Connecticut’s child-care licensing system show variability in reporting by inspectors, suggesting that training is needed to make sure inspections are consistent, Jones-Taylor said. The assessment is looking at weaknesses and inefficiencies in licensing oversight.

The state recently lost out on a federal “Race to the Top” grant, which would have funded improvements to child care quality and the launch of a quality-rating system that would grade providers on a four-tiered scale. In its application, the state had proposed to add 16 inspectors, increase inspections to once a year, and make unspecified “regulatory and policy changes to improve licensing requirements.”

Jones-Taylor said that the quality-rating system is now “on hold.” But she said state officials are working on other ways to improve child-care quality and to educate parents about finding high-quality care.