Printed on: December 13, 2012

Clean record for I.F. child care centers

By Ruth Brown

Giggles, crying and stories being read aloud are the sounds heard throughout eastern Idaho child care centers.

Hundreds of Idaho Falls-area children are dropped off at and picked up from child care centers several days a week. These businesses include in-home child care centers that take in one or two children all the way up to large-scale centers that care for dozens of children ranging in age from infants to pre-teens.

But who is in charge of making sure these businesses are following the laws and regulations designed to keep the children safe? Both the state of Idaho and the cities of Idaho Falls and Ammon have laws governing child care centers. But the local laws are fairly new -- Ammon's went into effect in 2007, while Idaho Falls' was implemented in 2008.

The laws are so new that some parents and child care center operators don't even know they exist.

"I think there are some people who do not know we have an ordinance," said Cherise Frei, a code enforcement officer for the city of Idaho Falls. "But most of the people who run the day cares do love children and want to get (licensed)."

Idaho Falls has 77 child care facilities, including preschools. Those facilities are required to reregister every two years, a process that mandates criminal background checks on all employees, Frei said.

Another 20 facilities are registered in Ammon.

Ammon child care facilities are required to reregister every year with background checks, Ammon City Administrator Ron Folsom said.

"It's $50 to reregister for the cost of background checks, but we feel $50 is worth the safety of the child," Folsom said.

In addition to the criminal background checks mandated by child care ordinances, inspections of the child care facility -- both in-home day cares and large centers -- are mandated when a facility is licensed. Licenses are renewed annually in Ammon and once every two years in Idaho Falls.

Child care workers also must be licensed in CPR and first aid.

There must also be an appropriate ratio of children to adult employees. Those ratios are based on a child's age.

Despite having regulations on the books, neither Ammon nor Idaho Falls has ever issued a citation or shut down a child care facility.

While there have been no citations in either city, Idaho Falls has done 13 inspections within the past year. Inspectors found only minor issues. The issues included not having adequate shade, not having a fence around an outside play area or not having medical release forms for every child.

Frei said she did not issue citations when the ordinance was first enacted because the child care centers were in the process of adapting to the new law. The grace period is over.

"It is time to start doing more than just warnings if we find something," she said.

Julie Heaton is director of The Small World, an Idaho Falls child care center. The Small World cares for about 60 to 70 kids each day but has 120 registered. Its children range in age from 6 weeks to 12 years old.

"The best inspectors are your parents, and they inspect every day unless they just really don't care," Heaton said. "But most parents think, 'I'm paying for this, so I'm going to make sure they follow the guidelines I would expect.' "

Linda Cripe owns Linda's Learning Place, an in-home group child care facility in Idaho Falls. She said being licensed is important.

She runs both a child care and a preschool in her home.

"It gives me a credential to tell parents I have been licensed," Cripe said. "And if there is ever a problem, the city knows my location and the fire department has a layout of my home should they need to get to the kids."

A child care facility designated as a "family" facility can have one to five children at a time, a "group" facility can have six to 12 children at a time, and a "center" can have 13 children or more.

To license a "family" child care facility, the cost is $75, a "group" is $150 and the cost for a "center" is $225.

Frei said any criminal complaints or reports of abuse in a child care facility are directed to the police. Any complaints of a noncriminal nature result in a drop-in inspection, she said.

Pocatello has had a child care ordinance since 1985. The city has 69 child care centers.

Kim Stouse, licensing enforcement officer for the city of Pocatello, said two facilities were shut down within the past year.

The city closed an in-home child care center after several fire hazards and violations of the Pocatello ordinance were discovered. Another child care center was given a citation and shut down after leaving a 4-year-old boy behind in a local park during an outing, Stouse said.

The boy was discovered about 90 minutes later when parents arrived to pick him up at the center and he wasn't there. The center also had an unlicensed employee.

Frei and Folsom have not uncovered any significant violations of the child care facility regulations within their cities.

Folsom said the laws governing child care facilities in Idaho are important because prior to these ordinances, there were virtually no regulations on those caring for children professionally.

"We definitely recognized the need," he said.

The ABCs of picking the right child care facility

Start early. Finding the right child care option can take some time.

Call city officials to learn about licensing requirements and complaints or violations about facilities you are visiting.

Learn about adult-to-child ratios and how they impact your child's care.

Investigate caregiver qualifications. Ask about the caregivers' training and education.

Investigate turnover at the facilities you are visiting.

Study the facility's accreditation. Find out whether the child care provider has been accredited by a national organization. Providers that are accredited have met voluntary standards for child care that are higher than most state licensing requirements. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and The National Association for Family Child Care are the two largest organizations that accredit child care programs.

Have parent-caregiver meetings regularly and ask questions.

Offer to volunteer.

Check in on your child at different times.