(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”
As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.
That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.
“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”
Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.
Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.
“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”
That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”
“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.
“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”
“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”
Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.
A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.
Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”
“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.
Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.
The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees, providers said.
“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”
“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”
Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.
“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”
Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.
Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:
- “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
- “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
- “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
- “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
- “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
- “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
- “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
- “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
- “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
- “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
- “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”
The incident happened around 7 a.m. on the 1900 block of N. Uhle Street, which is about five blocks from the Courthouse Metro station.
“At approximately 7:00 a.m. a male subject was seen masturbating in front of a daycare,” according to this week’s Arlington County crime report. “Felipe Jones Degado, 45, of no fixed address, was arrested and charged with public masturbation. He is being held without bond.”
Her bills — SB 780, SB 818 and SB 898 — would require everyone who receives compensation for child care in their home to be licensed with the Department of Social Services, undergo background checks and include their own children in official counts of how many children are under their care.
Currently, only homes caring for six or more children must be licensed by the state as a child care provider. If Favola’s bills pass in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, all employees who are alone with children would also have to receive first-aid training and ensure the home is clear of fire hazards.
“We should give families some assurances that there’s some standard of care,” Favola told ARLnow.com this week. “Right now the law reads if you have five unrelated children, you’re not regulated. This would require all day-home providers to meet minimum standards, like CPR, background checks and house fire safety code.”
The bills are currently in the senate’s Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, which met this morning. Favola is hoping that she can draw support from across the aisle to win some form of child care legislation. Favola’s colleague in the senate, Sen. Adam Ebbin, thinks she may have a chance.
“Daycare is going to be a significant issue to see progress on,” he said.
Favola called her bills “baby steps” at this month’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting, but she said she wanted to introduce legislation she felt could pass. Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in December that daycare is an issue he wants to see progress on in 2015. According to an editorial in the News Leader in Staunton, Va., 46 children have died in unlicensed daycares in Virginia since 2004.
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Around 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, police received several calls for a vehicle containing numerous young children who were not in proper children’s car seats. Police pulled the vehicle over as it was leaving the Weenie Beenie parking lot on the 2600 block of Shirlington Road, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
Inside the 2004 Ford Explorer, officers found seven children, ages 5 months to 3 years, and, according to police, “none of them were buckled in with any type of safety restraints.” One child was on the lap of a woman in the front passenger seat, four were in the back seat, and two were in the rear cargo area, Sternbeck said.
Two Alexandria women — Betty Ross, 34, and Cassandra Lewis, 37 — were arrested and charged with seven counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Ross and Lewis, who own a home-based daycare business in Alexandria, were released on a summons.
“None of the children were physically injured, and all of the children were returned to their parents,” according to the ACPD crime report.