Grand Prairie TX warms to idea of ​​licensed child care

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With child care and seating dwindling and a growing number of parents seeking care when they return to work, Grand Prairie home providers are asking the city to allow them to become licensed homes, which would allow them to accommodate more children. .

“I am in favor of getting a license because I provide quality child care and would like the opportunity to care for other children,” Leah Stanley, a childminder, told a city ​​council committee Monday. “Right now, I’m turning children away and sending them back.”

Stanley also noted that some child care centers closed during the pandemic, citing lost profits and a lack of access to subsidies because a city ordinance would not allow them to obtain a license.

In a presentation detailing the ordinance and possible changes, Cindy Mendez, the city’s director of public health and environmental quality, said her department discovered a decrease in the number of at-home providers from 33 to 26 – adding that there may also have been a decrease in demand. since the parents worked from home.

But city council members on the public safety, health and environment committee shared their support for changing the ordinance, which has put an extra layer of regulation on child care centers over the past four decades.

“Where I am right now… would I really like to allow… licensed child care centers (and) at the same time, follow our, our code and our fire code… to make sure that we protect the children who go to these homes for this childcare,” said committee member Junior Ezeonu.

Roslyn Chaney, another supplier who played a key role in organizing efforts to change the order, said in her statement to the committee that she already adheres to strict safety rules, including procedures for detailed evacuation, annual inspections and regular replacement of fire extinguishers.

But Mendez said city fire codes could be prohibitively expensive for home providers.

“What we found was that when you’re looking after more than five kids in a house, you’re supposed to have a sprinkler system,” Mendez said. “And that cost can be quite significant from what we’ve been able to find.”

How and when fire sprinkler systems are needed is a point of confusion for providers in the region, many of whom have provided care for more than six children for more than a decade.

Fire codes could prevent child care centers from obtaining a license

Jerletha McDonald, director of the Arlington DFW Child Care Professional Association, an advocacy and training organization, also spoke at the meeting, noting that under current regulations, residential homes have all provided care to more than five children, while passing the current checks.

“If we are required to have sprinklers (for more than five children), it will wipe out the entire daycare population in the city of Grand Prairie,” she said.

Chaney also pointed out that she passed all inspections and had 12 children in her home, including the six children allowed after school.

“When the firefighters come out, they have a great time at my house,” she said. “They never told me anything about these codes that they mention today.”

Grand Prairie Fire Marshal Donald Spivey said inspections are done at the request of a child care provider, usually on an annual basis.

The inspection includes things like making sure there are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and emergency lighting, making sure a fire extinguisher is accessible and properly labeled and inspected, and checking if a plan notice is posted at the front door.

Spivey said child care centers require proof of annual sprinkler system inspections and that child care centers “may comply with the code in effect at the time they began operations,” adding that “any new home day care would be required to comply with local code, which requires a sprinkler system if more than five children are cared for.

He did not respond to follow-up questions about providers currently caring for more than five children, who do not have sprinklers and yet passed inspections, in time for printing.

Jorja Clemson, another city council member and chair of the committee, said she wanted a solution that kept children safe without putting anyone out of business.

“The bottom line is that we want the children to be safe, as safe as possible,” she said. “But until then, we don’t want to put people out of business by demanding a $5,000 or $7,000 sprinkler system in a year or whatever the time frame.”

The order blocking licensed daycares is subject to change

Mendez said after the meeting that an ordinance change is likely, but what happens to homes without the necessary safety equipment remains to be determined.

“I think either way there will be a change in our prescription,” she told the Star-Telegram. “But how we will manage the childcare services currently in operation remains to be determined to ensure that we meet all legal requirements.

Mendez said she will return to the committee in the coming weeks to present more concrete options before the matter is considered by the full board for consideration.

The episode set in Grand Prairie mirrors political trends across the country as child care providers also face staffing shortages and historic turnover.

Natalie Renew, executive director of Home Grown, a national organization that supports home child care providers, said local policies across the country can have a chilling effect on home child care providers entering the market.

“There are lots of ways for home providers not to get licensed and then lots of ways where they’re discouraged or there’s a perception of a barrier,” she said. “It happens in different places, I would say most notably in zoning, in business licensing and health department requirements.”

In cases where major renovations such as sprinkler systems are needed, Renew said the cost is untenable for small businesses earning, in many cases, $30,000 a year.

“It’s not really a license,” she said. “You’re basically asking them to expand their facilities to make them look commercial. In some ways, to me, it’s a bit like a de facto elimination of a residential permit…either because of the burden it creates, or because of the exorbitant costs.

Oregon recently implemented a statewide requirement for sprinkler systems in any newly constructed or founded residential care facility.

“The introduction of non-residential use into a home greatly increases the risk of fire and life safety,” an information page for the bylaw reads. “Installing a fire sprinkler system or taking other locally approved safety measures will help reduce this safety risk.”

In a case like Grand Prairie’s, such a settlement could render the change in order irrelevant to providers who seek it.

“Even if they say, ‘Oh, it’s allowed now, but you need a sprinkler’, it will have the same effect, i.e. it will prevent home providers from participating in the system. “said Renew.

Other states, such as Colorado, have enacted laws intended to address conflicts between state and local regulations.

House Bill 1222, for example, requires counties and municipalities to treat family daycare centers as residences. for the purposes of zoning, land use, fire and life safety and building code regulations

While current regulations already require annual fire inspections, Renew said the focus across the country should be on helping home-based providers be able to meet the regulations.

“If we want every home provider to be fire safe, we can write that down in a regulation, but we could also invest in making sure those places are fire safe,” she said. declared.

“I don’t think anyone is arguing that it’s important to have responsible regulation in place and that we want our businesses to operate under one set of constraints, one set of regulations,” she said. “The question is, have we done enough to ensure that these companies are supported to be successful in complying with these regulations? And I think in almost all cases the answer is no.

Mendez told the Star-Telegram that the City of Grand Prairie has worked closely with vendors and has had no issues with them not meeting requirements thus far.

“We have great suppliers here in Grand Prairie,” she said.

But advocates say support for home providers is becoming increasingly important.

Home service providers are preferred by people of color

McDonald pointed out in his remarks before the committee that home-based providers, who make up about 30% of the early education sector nationwide, are the primary source of care for various populations.

“We provide services to minorities, minorities generally gravitate towards home child care providers, providers who may be of the same race as them so they can be more comfortable,” she said. “We care for all the children, but it’s a unique component of family child care.

Renew said this trend is mirrored across the country – and has become a heightened concern for advocates and policymakers in the wake of the nationwide judgment on fairness and race following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white policeman. in the summer of 2020.

“In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a broader conversation about equity, we recognize that historically, in-home child care has truly been the first choice for new Americans, black and brown families, families in rural communities and families with infants and toddlers,” she said. “So recognizing that these groups have been largely underserved in the early learning sector, there is more emphasis on ensuring they are part of the system and thriving.

“That, I think, is really wrapped up in a broader consideration of fairness,” she said.

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Isaac Windes covers early childhood education as part of Star-Telegram’s Crossroads Lab. The position is funded with assistance from the Morris Foundation. Windes is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Before coming to Star-Telegram, he wrote about schools and colleges in Southeast Texas for the Beaumont Enterprise. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Please ask your questions about early childhood education. Email: iwindes@star-telegram.com or call or text (817) 668-5449. Follow Isaac on Twitter @isaacdwindes

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