Connecticut will step up its oversight of child care centers and family daycare homes by requiring annual health and safety inspections – joining 41 other states that inspect such facilities at least once a year.
Lawmakers approved a proposal by the Malloy administration to double the number of inspectors for child care facilities and increase the frequency of inspections – now once every two years for centers, and once every three years for family homes. The state’s Office of Early Childhood (OEC) will hire and oversee 28 new inspectors, who will join 25 inspectors and 15 other licensing staff already employed by the Department of Public Health.
“This is an incredible move for the state of Connecticut . . . We’ll have more eyes and ears to ensure that children in our child care centers and family homes are safe,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, director of the OEC.
She said her office –which will absorb the health department’s child care licensing and inspection staff this summer – would work towards starting annual inspections as soon as the new hires are in place.
Nine of the new employees will work on criminal background checks of day care workers, which were found to be lacking in a 2013 state audit report. The auditors had cited the DPH for not verifying whether all new employees had the required checks, and for not following up in cases where a background check turned up a legal concern.
A December story by the Connecticut Health I-Team revealed lapses in Connecticut’s oversight of child care centers that contributed to its 48th place ranking among states in a national report by Child Care Aware of America. The rankings were based on benchmarks related to program oversight, including the frequency of inspections.
In addition to the increased inspections, the OEC is working to coordinate a system of training for child care workers and establish a quality rating and improvement system for child care centers, which eventually will be made available to the public. Most states already operate a public quality rating system, or are developing one, to assist families in understanding quality differences among programs.
Taylor-Jones said that before the state launches a rating system, her office plans to work with providers to make sure they are properly licensed and have an opportunity to “move up a quality ladder, towards accreditation.”
“We want to start on the quality improvement side, and then the rating piece will follow” in another year or so, she said.
Connecticut is now one of only nine states that do not conduct at least yearly inspections of child care centers, and one of six states that do not require any initial health and safety training for providers, according to a 2013 report by Child Care Aware. The national group recommends quarterly inspections, to ensure conditions at centers and family homes are safe.
According to the national report, Connecticut’s inspection caseload is now the third highest in the country: The ratio of one inspector to 217 cases is triple the caseload recommended by the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA), which directs a maximum average workload per inspector of 50 to 60 child care facilities.
An audit last year by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services highlighted lapses in Connecticut’s oversight of family homes, with inspectors finding that all 20 of the homes they reviewed failed to comply with licensing requirements related to health and safety, including a lack of regular background checks and unsanitary conditions, such as dog feces in play areas.
Because the state now inspects family providers infrequently, “some health and safety violations may exist up to 3 years before a state licensing inspector discovers a problem that places children at risk,” the report found.
The OEC, established last year, pulls together a number of state agency functions related to early childhood services, including oversight of school readiness and Head Start programs. The state is in the midst of expanding its school readiness programs, in an effort to get more young children into pre-kindergarten classes.