Forum Editorial: Child care oversight to improve
The Forum's latest reporting on the day care situation in Fargo reveals shocking gaps in oversight and regulation ("Are your children in good hands?" Dec. 28.) The laws that apply to day cares in North Dakota are inadequate to ensure that day car...
The Forum's latest reporting on the day care situation in Fargo reveals shocking gaps in oversight and regulation ("Are your children in good hands?" Dec. 28.) The laws that apply to day cares in North Dakota are inadequate to ensure that day care workers are fit to care for children. The system of safeguards has so many holes in it that convicted felons have been working in child care centers, apparently without the knowledge of regulators, social service agencies or parents.
It's not that day care operators have been purposely violating the law (although a few have). The problem - and worry for parents - is that regulations are minimal. It's relatively easy for people who should not be caring for children to get into the system without having been subjected to a thorough background check.
Local social service agencies are supposed to provide oversight, but state law does not mandate comprehensive background checks; county officials have to "take the word" of providers. Once an application is cleared, the state issues a license to operate.
It's a system ready-made for fraud.
The failure of the system is all the more appalling because two Forum reporters were able to do the kind of background checks the county/state should do. Doing routine records checks, Mila Koumpilova and Brittany Lawonn discovered day care employees with criminal histories ranging from child neglect and aggravated assault to embezzlement and drug abuse. The reporters did the sort of due diligence that should be required in North Dakota's day care licensing procedures.
Until The Forum's reporting on the day care situation - which was prompted when several centers in Fargo and West Fargo abruptly closed - even the governor's staff and most legislators did not realize that the state does not mandate background checks for child care workers. But Gov. John Hoeven has included mandatory checks in a proposal he's prepared with the attorney general. It will be submitted to the Legislature, which convenes next week. The governor has proposed $1.2 million in his budget for fingerprint-based FBI background checks on child care workers.
Meanwhile, parents of young children have options.
First, know the provider. Established child care centers operated under the auspices of well-known social service agencies or businesses usually do background checks that go beyond the state's weak requirements.
Second, as long as the state and county are not doing the job, it's up to parents to ask the right questions and even seek documentation regarding the fitness of child care workers. If a parent can't get such basic information from the owner of a private day care center or from a home-based operation, it should be a warning that something is amiss.
Awareness of the failings of North Dakota's child care system has been heightened by the problems day care centers have had in Fargo and West Fargo. The governor and Legislature appear poised to make day care safer for children. The quicker they get it done, the better for North Dakota families.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board