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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
In this April photo, teacher Lindsey Landis plays with 1-year-old Haelynn House at The Learning Community, the IPFW-affiliated child-care center. The center, which recently won a reprieve from university budget cuts, meets national accreditation standards, the highest in the state’s Paths to Quality voluntary ranking system.

Better care for children

In the absence of efforts by the states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stepped up to do the right thing for children. It is imposing rigorous new health and safety requirements on child-care facilities that accept government vouchers. For Indiana, that would be about 4,200 providers – most of them with home-based businesses.

“We frankly can’t wait any longer,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “Fifteen years have passed since we last updated our child-care rules – years of tragic stories of children lost and families devastated because there were no safety standards in place to protect them.”

Caregiver-to-child ratio requirements, for example, might have prevented the death of 22-month old Juan “Carlos” Cardenas, who drowned in a baptismal pool at an Indianapolis church last year after he wandered away from the child-care center located there.

Indiana’s safety standards were raised in the past legislative session, but they remain abysmal. Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill to add new health and safety requirements for all Indiana child-care providers who accept payment through the Child Care Development Fund voucher system. Another bill requires child-care workers to pass a national criminal history background check, not just a state background check, to qualify for employment in a regulated program.

The nonprofit Child Care Aware of America gave Indiana a score of zero in a report last year assessing state child care requirements. The state ranked 52nd among the states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense child-care centers. That’s zero points on a scale of 150.

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic examined child-care standards in his April article, “The Hell of American Day Care.” While experts recommend a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, one-third of U.S. children are in child-care settings that meet that standard, he reported. Most states, including Indiana, require caregivers to have only minimal or no training in safety, health or child development. The median annual salary for a child-care worker in 2011 was $19,430, less than a parking lot attendant or a janitor, Cohn found.

Sebelius’ announcement will spark complaints of a “nanny state.” But tying federal tax dollars to higher standards that protect infants and young children is the right thing to do. In a home, church or center, subsidized child care is a business.