Child care legislation seeks to improve safety
New legislation to improve the inspection and enforcement process by child care licensors has been implemented throughout the state. However, Utah Department of Health Office of Child Care Licensing officials emphasize that Carbon County parents still need to play an active role in selecting care and assuring that health and safety standards are met by their provider.
The inspection process has been streamlined to better help providers come into compliance with all health and safety regulations, to make inspections more helpful, efficient and less time consuming for providers and to improve communication between the child care community and the health department, asserted the state office.
Licensing specialists have been trained to enforce and follow the new process and all child care providers have been sent a letter explaining the changes in annual and complaint inspections. The new procedures were developed with the help of input from various groups, such as the Child Care Licensing Advisory Committee, parents of children in daycare, licensing specialists and child care owners and operators, indicated the health department.
Using child safety and quality improvement models as guides, the Office of Child Care Licensing (OCCL) will work with providers in the following manner:
Ã¯Â¿Â½Every provider will receive an announced and scheduled site inspection once a year from OCCL. The purpose of this visit is to provide a systematic review of the provider's operational policies and procedures pertaining to health, fire, food, safety, construction, etc.
Ã¯Â¿Â½When discrepancies are found between the OCCL's regulatory standards and the provider's practice, the findings will be given to the provider. Generally, the provider will have 30 days to correct the discrepancies and come into compliance with state regulations. However, if there are serious or 'immediate jeopardy' violations observed then the licensing specialist would issue a violation on site.
Ã¯Â¿Â½Following the announced visit, an unannounced, unscheduled verification site visit will follow to determine if corrections have been made and to inspect the facility for High Risk Harm (HRH) areas. These HRH areas include, but are not limited to, child to adult ratios, group sizes, accessible chemicals and child supervision practices.
Ã¯Â¿Â½If during this verification site visit it is found that the corrections have not been made or HRH areas exist, the child care facility will be considered out of regulatory compliance. In such cases, a plan of correction and date of correction will be mutually agreed upon between the licensing specialist and child care provider and a written statement of findings will be mailed.
Ã¯Â¿Â½After the agreed upon date, the licensing specialist will make another unannounced verification site visit to determine compliance.
Ã¯Â¿Â½If the child care facility is continually out of compliance there will be a graduated process of enforcement with the goal of providing adequate due process to providers to challenge and resolve disagreements.
Beginning this year, the OCCL will also change the way anonymous complaints are handled.
"Complaints are either anonymous, confidential or known in terms of the identity of the person who makes the complaint (complainant)," commented the state health department. "Past experience with anonymous complaints indicates that a lack of information from complainants may interfere with the OCCL's ability to adequately investigate the complaint. In addition, relatively few anonymous complaints were ever substantiated."
Some of the problems associated with anonymous complaints from the previous process include the inability to clarify information, follow-up on conflicting information, report back to the complainant or determine if the complainant has any conflict of interest with the provider.
But, according to the health department, the new process intends to resolve these difficulties. OCCL said it will encourage complainants to be confidential or known, not anonymous. If a complainant chooses to remain anonymous, they will be told that the information will be noted in the file for reference at the next regular inspection and, where indicated, referred to the appropriate law enforcement or child protection agency.
"The child care health and safety standards and rules have not changed; what we are changing is the manner in which we interact with child care providers as they work to adopt current standards," said UDOH Division Director Iona Thraen. "Scheduling inspections should assist providers to get organized and prepare the necessary documentation on an annual basis. This will also make it easier for licensors to thoroughly analyze the facilities capacity to provide adequate care."
Thraen indicated that the new system will be a friendlier process because no deficiencies are written up at the announced survey unless 'immediate jeopardy' is occurring. However, she reminds parents that maintaining an active role with their child's provider is still essential.
"Parents who take their children to child care can observe the quality and safety their child care provider offers every day," stated Thraen. "Parents need to judge whether or not the quality of care measures up to their standards of quality. State regulations play only a partial role in assuring minimum health and safety standards. If parents feel the care being delivered to their children does not meet their standards, they should discuss their expectations or concerns with their provider."