It has been a deadly summer for Indiana children, but has it been bad enough to push lawmakers to stand up to the bullies leaving children in harms way?
Eighteen-month-old Payton Brettell died Monday in Warsaw. An autopsy cited death from positional asphyxia – Payton was strangled by a car seat strap inside his unlicensed child care providers home. He was one of eight children in the home at the time, according to South Bends WSBT-TV.
Twenty-two-month-old Skylar Bullocks remains in critical condition at Riley Childrens Hospital in Indianapolis after she was pulled from a swimming pool Aug. 2. A 4-year-old jumping on a trampoline spotted her in the pool and tried to pull her out. They were among nine children at the unlicensed child care home.
A 4-month-old baby died July 18 after she was found unresponsive in a portable crib at an unlicensed child care home in Brownsburg. The police said 14 children were in the home.
A coincidental string of tragedies? Hardly. The nonprofit Child Care Aware of America gives Indiana a score of zero in its annual report assessing state child care requirements. The state ranks 52nd among the states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense child care centers. Thats zero points on a scale of 150.
Grace Reef, director of policy and evaluation for Child Care Aware, said the organization supports licensing for any providers accepting payment to care for any child other than their own. With licensing come the training requirements that improve the quality and safety of child care, along with inspections to promote compliance.
Indianas lack of oversight is shameful in two significant areas. First, we are one of just eight states that do not require a license for child care homes with fewer than six unrelated children and, second, the states loosely defined child care ministries are exempt from licensing. Twenty-two-month old Juan Carlos Cardenas drowned in a baptismal pool at one of those centers in February.
Every attempt to add regulations at child care ministries is blocked by conservative groups claiming a violation of church and state. Eric Miller, leader of the powerful Christian conservative lobby group Advance America, mobilizes ministers to spread fear and disinformation each time a legislator attempts to protect children.
Fortunately, a handful of brave lawmakers arent backing down. Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, is chairman of the child care study committee that will look at tougher restrictions on child care ministries.
He points to a loophole that allows anyone to label a child care business as a ministry and escape regulation.
We toured one of these child care ministries in an Indianapolis home last year, Holdman said. There were two adults and 52 children – infants to fourth grade. My feet stuck to the floor; there were mouse feces everywhere.
He said the operators of the center had collected $10 million in child care subsidy vouchers over a five-year period. It has since been shut down for violations, but the states weak regulations allow dangers to persist elsewhere. Sadly, the well-run church programs are complicit in resisting licensing, buying into Millers disingenuous claims of governmental intrusion.
Voters must exert their own pressure in supporting the work of Holdmans committee and telling all lawmakers that they will expect nothing less than a strong law to protect Indiana children. Its not about regulating churches or grandmothers; its about saving lives.