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New standards improve childcare quality, safety

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 10/31/2016, 5:55 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration for Children and Families announced on Sept. 23 new quality and ...
The Dallas Examiner Logo Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

Special to The Dallas Examiner

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration for Children and Families announced on Sept. 23 new quality and safety standards aimed at providing for higher quality care and safer environments for millions of children, including our youngest learners.

The rule, which implements bipartisan legislation signed by President Obama in 2014, sets higher standards for states, territories and tribes receiving federal funds through the Child Care and Development Fund program in important areas, such as health and safety requirements; training and professional development for child care providers; and eligibility rules that better support working families.

In 2016, Texas received $514,125,511 in federal funding through the CCDF program, which serves 112,100 children – 66,000 families – each month.

Last year, the federal government provided more than $5 billion to states, territories and tribes to help 850,000 working families pay for child care and to support quality improvements for providers that serve our neediest children. CCDF serves approximately 1.4 million children each month, a majority of whom are children under the age of 5. The new rule protects the health and safety of children, helps parents make more informed consumer choices, supports early child development for our youngest learners, and enhances the quality of childcare for all children.

All children in one of the 370,000 child care settings across the country that participate in the federal child care program – not just those receiving direct child care assistance from CCDBG – will benefit from new health and safety requirements, staff training requirements and criminal background checks for staff. In addition, CCDF quality investments can benefit all children in childcare regardless of whether or not they receive federal funding.

We know from U.S. Census data that nearly 12.5 million children under the age of 5 are in some form of childcare arrangement each week. They spend an average of 36 hours per week in care. Research, particularly in neuroscience, has shown how much this time matters to our youngest children. Providing safe, high-quality environments that nurture our youngest children’s healthy growth and development will help them grow, thrive, be successful in school, and even find better jobs and earn more as adults.

“Many parents rely on child care programs, and it is important that their children are cared for in safe learning environments with qualified providers,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “These new standards, which are the result of bipartisan legislation, include robust safety, screening, and training procedures to boost quality, empower parents, and ensure that child care programs promote healthy and positive early childhood development.”

The rule strengthens a number of new provisions in the law and provides needed guidance to states, territories and tribes in a number of areas, including:

• Requiring all staff in child care facilities have mandatory criminal background checks.

• Enhancing the health and safety of children through more robust standards for CCDF providers, including requiring initial and ongoing training and professional development on 10 key topics (e.g., first aid/CPR, medication administration, SIDS prevention) for the early childhood workforce.

• Disseminating information to help parents choose childcare, including through an accessible website.

• Devoting more funding to improve quality across all child care settings.

• Ensuring CCDF programs are monitored at least annually so children are healthy and safe in child care programs.

“This rule continues the historic re-envisioning of the Child Care and Development Fund program and raises the bar so that low-income parents will know their children are safe, learning, and on the path to future success in school and life,” said Linda Smith, deputy assistant secretary for early learning at ACF. “Child care is both an economic support for working parents and an early learning program for millions of children. It’s critical to our nation’s future that we get this right.”

To view more information about the new rule or to learn more about the Child Care and Development Fund block grant program, visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov.