Editorials

Tools were needed to reduce risks at unlicensed child care

Far too often, a new or amended state law is born out of tragedy. Such is the case with Substitute Senate Bill 5504, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The bill attempts to tighten up rules and stiffen violations aimed at unlicensed child care operations across the state.

The bill is known as the Colby Thompson Act, named after a young child who suffered life-altering injuries as the result of alleged abuse May 20, 2010, at an unlicensed childcare center in Auburn.

The boy, 9 months old at the time, suffered permanent brain damage after allegedly being shaken by a teenage caretaker. The young boy survived, but faces a compromised future, unable to sit up, eat through his mouth or see.

Since that horrific day, the child’s parents, Chris and Jamie Thompson, have been on a mission to ensure that the state takes steps to crack down on unlicensed child care centers in hopes that what happened to their son never happens to another child.

That may be asking too much. Death and serious injury from shaken baby syndrome will be difficult at best to eradicate once and for all by caregivers who lose their patience and take out their sudden anger on a helpless infant.

But SSB 5505 is a step in the right direction. The Thompsons did an admirable thing, channeling their grief in a productive direction by becoming compelling advocates for the new legislation.

Like so many other parents of young children, the Thompson’s had no idea how important a choice they were making when they picked their child care provider, this unlicensed one less expensive than some of the licensed providers they considered.

State law requires child care centers to have a state license, which includes a background check, 20 hours of classroom education, CPR training and inspections of their facilities to ensure they meet building and fire codes.

True, some of the rules and regulations are burdensome and time-consuming. But if someone chooses child care as their livelihood, they are taking on the care of society’s most vulnerable population. It is incumbent upon them to take their job seriously and place the health and safety of the child first in all of their business-related decisions.

The amended law grants the state Department of Early Learning some new tools to reduce the number of unlicensed child care centers, including:

 • Double the fine certain unlicensed providers must pay to $150 per day for family day care homes and $250 per day for child care centers that don’t take the necessary steps to comply with licensing requirements.

 • Day-care centers that don’t initiate the licensing process within 30 days of being notified will have their business posted on the state agency’s website, alerting potential customers that the business isn’t in compliance with state law.

The new law includes an extensive list of situations that are exempt from licensing, including relatives, summer camps, parents who join child care cooperatives, neighbors and others. Clearly, the bill targets providers who care for children on a regular basis for profit.

In fiscal year 2010, the Department of Early Learning fielded 216 complaints of unlicensed child care. In the 88 cases that proved to be valid complaints, the day cares were either shut down or directed to secure licenses.

Tighter rules are necessary in part because free online advertising has made it easier for small childcare centers without licenses to attract new customers.

Nobody wants to create extra layers of red tape for well-intentioned child care providers.

But, if new rules reduce the risk of abuse like the one inflicted on the Thompson family, they are inarguably in everyone’s best interests.

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