Many were concerned to learn of the deficiencies found at licensed child care providers in Maine after a 2013 audit by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General. In unannounced visits to child care providers, inspectors found the following: exposed outlets; an unprotected, active space heater directly next to toys; an exposed sewage pipe and water stains on the ceiling; pet food, trash and stained carpet in a child’s play area; and knives in unlocked cabinets accessible by children.
There also were expired medications in first-aid kits, a broken slide, no record of rabies vaccinations for pets in several facilities and no records that criminal history reports on staff had been completed. Because having safe facilities and being able to prove staff members don’t have a history of abusing children are basic requirements for running a day care facility, these places failed to meet a relatively low bar. The audit didn’t even get into educational programming.
If you, as a responsible parent, want to know ahead of time whether a local child care provider is apt to electrocute your kid, there is a resource you can use. Go to childcarechoices.me, search for providers in your area and see how they rate. The Quality Rating and Improvement System was created by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Participating early childhood programs are given a rating on a four-step scale, with Step Four being the highest level attainable.
Of the 1,829 family child care and center-based providers enrolled in the voluntary rating system — only about half of them are enrolled — nearly 17 percent are at the highest Step Four, which means their program has had no substantiated licensing violations within the past three years, has a daily schedule and curriculum plans, observes children’s skills and records them three times per year, is in regular communication with parents, has parent conferences twice a year, conducts parent surveys, holds regular staff meetings, has national accreditation, has staff with the highest amounts of training and more.
Nearly 56 percent are at the lowest Step One, which means they have been in operation a year and haven’t had any serious licensing violations during that time; 17 percent have reached Step Two; and 10 percent are at Step Three.
If your child care provider isn’t participating in the rating system, consider asking why. If they’re on a lower step, ask if they’re working toward a higher one. Sometimes parents are hindered by where they live — there may not be many child care options nearby — so it could help to inquire.
Also, know that there are incentives in the form of tax credits for parents to send their children to top-rated child care providers and help offset the costs associated with higher quality care.
Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their children at day care. The ratings system is a great start to help ease their minds. Now parents need to use it and use their buying power to drive improvements at the places where their littlest spend much of their time.