Sunday, April 22, 2012

A daycare must-read

If you have children in daycare or wonder how daycare is regulated in Georgia, today's AJC has an eye-opening report on how a menu of special exemptions allows a great variety of childcare providers to bypass the licensing process. The article includes disturbing vignettes of how one business owner felt "smart" in finding a suitable loophole and how another point-blank lied to AJC reporter Tim Eberly about part-owning a childcare business that handled its revoked exempt status by reopening under a new name.

The problem: childcare providers that strategically avoid meeting the definition of a "traditional" daycare program may be approved for a waiver that exempts them from basic due diligence such as running a background check on employees. It also exempts them from following best practices required for traditional daycares, which are extensive and outlined for various program types within the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) website as well as on DECAL's Rules and Regulations page.

The Exemption Form (pdf) that nontraditional providers complete asks that the facility include a "Sample copy of the form parents will sign indicating they have been advised and understand the program is not licensed." So far so good, however, repeated searches of the DECAL website do not readily call up an example of what the state of Georgia considers appropriate disclosure. It seems that, at the very least, that DECAL should offer an easy-to-read summary on how traditional daycares are held to a higher standard, and clarify the process by which nontraditional providers disclose these distinctions to parents and guardians. To review exemption-related documents, go to DECAL's Exemptions Page.

A set of New Rules for Exempt Programs -- Effective Now came into effect on March 2012; the list addresses some issues but in doing so, highlights other disturbing truths (e.g., liability insurance remains optional? maintaining attendance records was optional?).

New exemption rules are now in effect that include new requirements for all exempt programs, regardless of when the exemption was granted. All exempt programs must now: 
- Submit and maintain a valid and current e-mail address. 
- Post a copy of the exemption approval letter and a notice that the program is not licensed and is not  required to be licensed by the state that includes Bright from the Start’s phone number and website address. (The Department will include the notice with approval letters.)
- Provide notice to parents/guardians of enrolled children if you do not carry liability insurance. 
- Obtain the signature of parent(s) or guardian(s) on a form that indicates they have been advised and understand the program is not licensed. 
- Maintain attendance records for all children. 
- Maintain parental acknowledgement forms and attendance records on-site while a child is enrolled and for one year after a child is no longer enrolled. 
- Make all records available to Bright from the Start upon request. 
- Notify Bright from the Start in writing within five business days if your program stops operating, closes or loses accreditation. 
- Comply with zoning, certificate of occupancy, fire inspection, health department requirements. 
- On the new Exemption Application, notarize the signature(s) and include a sworn statement that the information provided is truthful and accurate. 
- Submit a new exemption application if there are material changes in the operation of the program, such as a change of location, changes in operating months, days and/or hours, change in ages served.