The topic of child care seems to be a part of everyone’s conversations lately. In recent years, the lack of access to care has risen to be one of the biggest detriments to the United States economy. This is not a surprise within the early childhood world, as advocates have predicted a decreased supply of early care and education professionals for over a decade.
Although it is validating to have community leaders, employers, and elected officials stand alongside early childhood professionals in a combined effort to build capacity, it feels like we’ve lost sight of what is best for children. The idea of deregulation is often cited as a solution to the child care shortage, but will eliminating health and safety rules truly help build capacity?
Now, let’s unpack the term “deregulation.” We found that deregulation means different things for different people: increase care ratios, decrease paperwork, eliminate background checks, and soften training requirements, to name some. For many, regulations within child care seem to be the root of frustrations, and deregulation seems like an easy way to build the capacity of child care professionals.
The process of licensing, in many professions, is setting a standard that the license holder has completed certain criteria and will follow certain rules. Licensing is required for child care teachers and K-12 teachers. When rules are not followed for any license holder, there are consequences.
We agree, some regulations within both Rule 2 (home-based license) and Rule 3 (center-based license) licensing dating back to the early 1990s may need to be revisited and updated. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is facilitating an advisory committee to work on modernizing the licenses.
Minnesota’s current adult-to-child ratios and group sizes are necessary for safety, health, and quality and have been implemented based on research. Child care impacts our youngest children, ages six weeks and older. These are foundational years; the years when the brain grows the fastest. When increasing child care ratios is mentioned, it is often with the intent to increase the wages of child care teachers and does not consider the children’s development. Building a stronger, more supportive system, and subsidizing wages to keep lower ratios in place is a better long-term solution. Lower ratios also help reduce caregiver burnout, especially when caring for very young children or children with special needs.
Background checks are in place for the safety of young children. Background checks, fingerprinting, and the paperwork involved are often difficult to access. Information is slow to return and expensive, especially for centers that need background checks for many staff members. Relaxing this requirement, or taking it away altogether, will put young children at risk. Our system needs to be more supportive and work to decrease the background check backlogs and costs.
What we all can do to help: Support increasing public investment to cover the cost of providing high-quality child care. Families count on high-quality child care, which every child deserves.
West Central Initiative’s Director of Early Childhood, Nancy Jost, and Early Childhood Specialist Marsha Erickson