Friday, September 16, 2016

New childcare licensing rules lead to closures

SPRINGFIELD — New state rules that went into effect on Sept. 1 for child care providers are leading some to close their doors, while others are working on adapting to the changes. The new regulations governing child care centers and family providers are requiring that some individuals go back to school, send their employees into professional development, or shut down their business.
Alisha Adams, acting president of the Vermont Child Care Association, said on Thursday, Sept. 15 that she has not surveyed nearby providers and does not have an exact number of how many are affected.

“But it has been a concern,” she said.

Adams said that she is aware of 11 programs closed in Franklin County, for instance, and a few in the Montpelier area.

“The state is saying they will work with us,” she said.

Adams has been in the childcare business for 23 years, and holds a master’s degree. She served on the state of Vermont’s rule-making committee, along with approximately 100 other child care providers, child care licensors, and other community stakeholders telecommuting from 12 regions throughout the state, to discuss best practices and recommendations before the new rules went into effect.
Adams said that she feels that many of the public comments from child care providers during the public hearing sessions “were overlooked.”

The closures are also affecting southeastern Vermont. Rachel Hunter, a child care provider in Springfield, said on Thursday that 11 child care programs, including in-home providers, in the Springfield Agency of Human Services district had closed or become unregulated since Sept. 1 because of the new regulations.That district stretches from Bellows Falls to Windsor, she said.

“There are centers closing all over the state, too,” she said.

In the Springfield AHS district, this equates to around 100 children without child care in an area that already had a shortage of childcare providers, according to Hunter.

In White River Junction area, which is part of the Hartford AHS district, eight providers have closed, she said.

Hunter is a home-based child care provider with 16 years of experience. She participates in the Springfield Building Bright Futures Regional Council and serves on an oversight committee for Vermont’s quality recognition and improvement system for early care and learning programs, and on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care.

The 133 pages of regulations took Vermont from "having minimal regulations to over-the-top regulations with no grandfathering or grace periods," she said.

The new regulations have strict guidelines on the education level required for teachers, teacher associates, child care providers, teacher aides, trainees and other types of employees, according to rules published by the Vermont Agency of Human Services Department for Children and Families.

The regulation manual has gone from a 27-page book to more than 100 pages of new regulations. That has caused concern among some providers that a lot of the new regulations are not measurable, and has some providers questioning how the state is going to regulate providers and enforce the lengthy new set of rules, she said.

On the plus side, the state is providing a one-year grace period for providers who are not yet up to compliance. If the state finds someone not in compliance — only on new rules — it will “give guidance” instead of issuing a violation, just for that one year, she said.

“So they really are trying to work with us. Vermont wants to be in the higher-quality realm,” Adams said.

However, the resulting closures by individuals who feel they cannot go back to school or bring their programs up to compliance in the allotted time is still a big concern, she said. Adams said she has a colleague who has run a child care for more than 20 years “and has a great program, but no degree.”
The state will not “grandfather” those without a degree, as it has done in the past, she said.

“Some had to close, and others felt it was just too much,” she said. She knows of a few providers who will be going back to school, and said there is educational assistance available for those displaced providers, but for those already working 60 hours a week “that’s hard,” she said.

Adams said she has spoken with her local legislative representative about the issue, but that the regulations were already approved and are now in effect. She also said she wishes the committee had been allotted more time to go through the lengthy set of new regulations.

The good news is that there may be a way to advocate for children’s special or specific needs, even if they are prohibited by the new regulations, she said.

For example, she knows a parent whose child will only sleep when swaddled, and due to new rules, the child can no longer be swaddled, and has not slept at the childcare center for a week as a result.

For specific needs, Adams said that she recalls from the rule-making committee that there was initially a provision in which parents could potentially write a letter requesting exceptions.
“So that may be an angle where we can advocate for parents’ rights,” she said.

Adams said that she would “really push” for parents to act as advocates on behalf of their children, and contact local legislators to request exceptions for their children’s individual needs if it appears care providers would no longer be allowed to meet them.

However, some providers are moving ahead with the regulations as an opportunity to further staff development and credentials.

Heather-Lynn LaPlante, director of Suzy’s Little Peanuts in Springfield, said she is encouraging more staff to go through professional development programs in light of the new regulations.

LaPlante said that resources are available through the Community College of Vermont (CCV) and the Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council (VCCICC), and that she plans to have most of her staff go through a two year education program offered through those two organizations.

With that completed, they would be considered 3(A) on the early childhood career ladder, which they need to meet the new requirements, she said.

Also, any staff hired before Aug. 31, 2016 has two years to complete the program. CCV also offers a child care certificate, and applicants can seek financial assistance through grants of up to $1,000, according to LaPlante.

“So we have a little leeway,” she said.

Additionally, the executive director of Suzy’s Little Peanuts has set up a director’s group in the area to provide directors under her supervision with additional information on the new laws, LaPlante said.

The updated Vermont licensing regulations for center-based child care and preschool programs, which govern child care facilities, is a revision of two sets of regulations: Early Childhood Program Licensing Regulations from February 2001, and Children’s Day Care Licensing Regulations for Non‐ Recurring Clientele, from October 1996. Combined, they are known as Center Based Child Care and Preschool Programs.

The combined regulations “create consistency in basic standards for all center‐based settings and include reasonable accommodations for specific settings,” according to the regulations booklet. The regulations include sections on licensing, monitoring, safety, emergency preparedness, non-discrimination, disease management, parent communication and background checks, among other aspects.

Eagle Times

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