Posted: Nov 15, 2012 10:28 PM by MTN News
MISSOULA - This summer, supervisors lost track of a child on a daycare field trip. That child was left unattended in a car while the rest of the group went to a movie - and temperatures that day soared well over 90 degrees.
While that daycare facility has since lost its license, other childcare facilities continue to operate under little to no regulation here in the state of Montana.
For many families, kids spend more time with their childcare provider than they do with their own parents.
Kelly Rosenleaf runs ChildCare Resources in Missoula. She says parents need to be diligent when looking at potential childcare providers.
"According to national standards we don't have as many licensors as would be ideal for the number of facilities that exist in Montana," she said, which means parents must take the effort to assess their child's care.
In a report published earlier this year by ChildCare Aware of America, Montana received an "F" for its standards and oversight of small family child care homes.
One of the reasons for the poor grade stems from Montana's licensing process, where state inspectors each have an average caseload of more than 100 programs. For instance, Missoula has two people responsible for inspecting and monitoring daycare facilities in Missoula, Mineral, Granite and Ravalli counties: a job that deserves at least eight inspectors, said one childhood program manager.
Kelly Clouse runs the Spirit At Play Early Childhood Program in Missoula. She agrees that state childcare regulators are stretched too thin.
"I think they do a fantastic job, I just wish there were more of them," Clouse said.
Rosenleaf thinks inspectors can't visit daycares often enough to be assured of compliance with rules. "There are some facilities that are not very good quality and parents may not be aware that it's not a very good quality facility and there's no one determining that they are not meeting licensing standards."
Montana has about 11 full-time employees monitoring child care facilities across the state.
Stephanie Goetz, program manager for child care licensing, said she feels she has a great team. "The licensors that we have across the state, I think they're able to manage their caseloads really well and overall I think they do a good job."
Goetz, however, admits that given her limited staff it's not realistic that every childcare facility in the state will see an inspector every year - which is why the onus falls on parents to make sure their kids are in the right place.
Rosenleaf emphasized that. "Children are very vulnerable - they are not able to take care of themselves, that's why they're with adults - but I think it's very important to assess what is the supervision at a facility where you want to be for your child."
Clouse said not everyone is suited to take care of kids. "If your child is in a high-quality program, they're going to have the head start that they need to be contributing to society and to be good role models and good leaders once they hit private and public schools."
It's important to note Montana only regulates enrollment-based daycare facilities. The state has zero licensure or regulation standards for what are called drop-in daycare centers.
Some things parents should look for when interviewing potential childcare providers are child-to-staff ratio as well as the facility's mission statement and credentials.
It's also a good idea to visit a variety of daycares when searching for a provider and to ask lots of questions about the activities and childcare strategies that provider uses.