Lis on Law: Daycare's Shocking Statistics

Lis Wiehl

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The Banks children didn't know how good they had it when Mary Poppins flew into town.

According to a recent report by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), 63 percent of the nation's children under five years of age are in some type of child-care arrangement every week; and most parents assume such programs are regulated to ensure the health and safety of their children. In reality, that is often not the case.

Daycare horror stories abound involving allegations ranging from caregiver incompetence to outright neglect and abuse. In June, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services began an investigation of the Candy Cane Corner Day Care Center after two children, ages six and eight, wandered a mile and a half away from the facility and were eventually found at a local business asking for water. In another case, a Virginia woman was recently accused of leaving nine children, ages nine months to three years, alone at her in-home day care facility for approximately one hour. Still more — police in Columbia, IL, recently investigated a daycare after reports that children had been locked in closets; finally, at the First Christian Church's Child Garden School, an Amarillo, Texas woman was arrested for putting a three-year-old in a freezer.

You may be wondering how such things can happen, but the NACCRRA reports that just 10 states require unannounced inspections of child-care centers; only 12 states require caregivers working in child-care centers to have training in early childhood education prior to working with children; and a mere 10 states require caregivers who work from their homes to be licensed.

At the more chilling end of the spectrum, a 25-year-old Florida man and former director of two church-affiliated Kid's Palace Daycare Centers was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison and 10 years of probation after being charged with molesting several children between the ages of six and 14; and an unlicensed Virginia Beach caregiver was sentenced to 10 years in prison for running an illegal daycare after a nine-month-old was mysteriously found dead on her watch.

The NACCRRA survey also indicated that nine in 10 parents favor requiring all child care to meet basic standards of quality, training for caregivers both before and after they begin working with children, and regular inspections of all child-care programs. In addition, most parents (92 percent) favor creating quality standards to better prepare children for school.

“The results of this survey should be a wake-up call to policy-makers,” said Linda K. Smith, NACCRRA's Executive Director. “Parents need child care, and they don't want just any care; they want high-quality care. They want their children in a safe and healthy learning environment that prepares them to enter school ready to succeed.”

According to the NACCRRA, the quality of care a child receives during the first five years of life is critical because 90 percent of brain development occurs during those years. “Forty-six percent of kindergarten teachers report that at least half of their students are not prepared to learn,” Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). “If we are to remain a competitive nation, we simply must improve our early care and education.”

A report indicates that children in high quality child care have better social, math, and language skills, as well as fewer behavior problems. Moreover, several long-term studies have shown that kids in high-quality early childhood programs are significantly less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special education, or commit crimes. In fact, a recent study by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) revealed that for every dollar invested in such programs, taxpayers receive a net benefit of $2 to $4, a significant boost to the long-term economic growth of the country.

But government funding for child care has been grossly inadequate. According to the National Collaboration for Youth (NCY), the funding level for Head Start enables just 50 percent of eligible three and four-year-olds to take part. Early Head Start is serving less than three percent of nearly 3 million eligible children under the age of three. And just one in seven children eligible for child care assistance under federal law are able to receive it.

One piece of good news: The Focus on Committed and Underpaid Staff for Children's Sake (FOCUS) Act, which was introduced in April of 2005 and is currently awaiting evaluation by the House subcommittee on health, would provide $5 billion for scholarships, training, stipends, and health benefits for child-care providers.

Needless to say, it is time for Americans to get involved in this issue — by learning about it, speaking about it, and most importantly, by voting for candidates who support the cause. If rectifying our nation's child-care system requires a modest tax increase, then so be it. According to a recent survey by the United Way Association of South Carolina and other advocacy groups, 97 percent of parents would pay as much as $10 more per week for better quality child care; 84 percent said they would pay as much as $20 more. Yet as Mark Ginsberg, the executive director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children said, “The real question isn't what it will cost our nation to provide high-quality child care, but what the cost to our nation will be if we fail to do so.”

Click here to e-mail Lis.

Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.