Legislation Aimed At Safer Home-Based Day Care
Governor George E. Pataki and State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi have announced a new initiative that would make home-based day care settings around New York State safer and more closely supervised. This initiative — focusing on legally exempt child care providers — would enhance safety and promote the healthy development of children, while safeguarding the investment of public funds.
The announcement was made as the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) released an audit, which found that children in legally exempt day care across the State had been exposed to hazardous conditions and uncovered potential fraud by some providers. OSC auditors worked with Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) staff to identify important health and safety standards and found problems by jointly making unannounced visits to a sampling of legally exempt day care providers in Albany, Monroe and Nassau counties.
The reforms address problems identified through the audit and take bold new steps in helping to keep children safe and increase the quality of care for children in legally exempt child care settings. Legally exempt child care providers care for one to two children at a time, usually in the provider’s home, and are not required to be licensed or registered by state Office of Children and Family Services.
"Over the past nine years, we have made tremendous investments in child care increasing funding by $650 million and more than doubling the child care subsidies available to New York’s working families," Governor Pataki said. "These new initiatives, developed in conjunction with the Comptroller’s office, will further strengthen the quality of child care in New York and further assist parents as they seek out child care that is safe, healthy and responsive to their needs and preferences."
"Finding affordable, safe child care is a huge challenge for working parents all around New York State, and our initiative will ensure that home-based day care — which for some parents is the only available option — is safer and more enriching for children," Comptroller Hevesi said. "Our audit identified a number of significant issues, and we worked with the governor and OCFS to address these issues in a way that would be most beneficial to parents and their children."
The State’s child care subsidy program is funded with federal, state and local dollars, overseen by the state and administered by the counties. It gives financial assistance to low income families who may be receiving or making the transition off of public assistance. These families then make their own day care arrangements.
As the State’s child care subsidy program has grown, a significant percentage of parents have continued to select legally exempt child care, which is generally provided by relatives, friends and neighbors. The OSC audit examined the OCFS oversight of day care provided in a family’s own home or in private residences by caregivers who are monitored by the parents, but are legally exempt from state child care licensing and registration requirements and enforcement activities. The audit reviewed OCFS’ monitoring of the state’s 58 local social services districts outside of New York City and recommended improvements in rules and regulations governing the program.
Following a review of the audit findings, OCFS will now require the local social service districts to increase inspections of legally exempt day care settings.
Currently, all legally exempt providers are required to complete an enrollment process that includes an attestation about the safety of the premises and the appropriateness of the individual and other household members to provide care for young children. This attestation is signed by both the provider and the parent and submitted to the county.
OCS auditors noted that while legally exempt providers report information regarding criminal history, no mechanism exists for OCFS or the local districts to independently verify that information. In response to audit findings, OCFS will advance new rules and policies that will allow local districts to cross-check all legally-exempt providers and adult family members against county criminal and child welfare databases, the OCFS Child Care Facilities System and the state Sex Offender Registry. Providers who are flagged in any of these checks would then be cross-checked against the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.
A percentage of providers and family members will also undergo a full criminal check on the State Division of Criminal Justice database. Parents and potential care providers will be fully informed that applicants who provide care will undergo screening and may be subject at random to a full criminal check. Local social service districts will be prohibited from making payments to providers who do not pass these background checks.