Washington state fared better than most in the 2012 report released last week by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, or NCCRRA.
Oregon scored considerably worse.
The national resource and referral organization works with more than 600 state and local child-care resource and referral agencies, promoting access to quality, affordable child care. Created in 1987, the association offers training, professional development, certification and information to families and child-care providers.
In its third such report, "Leaving Children to Chance," the NACCRRA scores and ranks 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Defense, on their child-care standards and oversight affecting young children in licensed family child-care homes.
Using 16 benchmarks, the association discovered that while the home child-care picture has improved since its 2010 report, more progress is needed to ensure that children are safe and in a quality setting.
Sixteen states scored zero in this report, eight because they do not inspect family child-care homes before licensing - Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, West Virginia and Texas. Eight others scored zero because they either allow more than six children in the home before requiring a license or do not license small family child-care homes - Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia, according to the report's executive summary.
"States have many different ways to count the number of children allowed in a small family child-care home. Some states exempt the provider's own children from counting. Some states begin counting children only when a certain number of unrelated children are cared for in the home. The actual number of children in the home is important because it affects the safety of the children as well as the provider's ability to effectively interact with each child," the report authors wrote.
"For example, if a fire were to occur in the home, each infant and young child would need to be evacuated safely - not just the ones that the state requires to be counted for licensing purposes."
Scores for the top 10 states ranged from 86 to 120, with Washington coming in second at 119 points out of a total of 150 possible, earning a "C" status.
Washington is one of only nine states that conduct a comprehensive background check, which includes a check against the sex offender registry and fingerprint checks, noted Kara Klotz, communication manager for the Olympia-based Department of Early Learning.
It also was one of seven states that ranked in the top 10 for both oversight and program standards.
This state started regulating child-care providers in the 1960s after a fire in a family home child care killed three children, Klotz said in a press release.
Since then, Washington has made "great strides" to help ensure children's safety in family home child care and other child-care center settings.
That said, some of the weaknesses the report found in Washington include:
- Routine monitoring inspections of family child-care homes are only conducted once every 18 months.
- Child-care licensing staff has an average case load of 97 programs.
- Providers are required to complete only 10 hours of annual training, plus cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid.
- Providers are allowed to care for up to three infants and toddlers when older children are present.
The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies recommends that Washington increase inspections of family child-care homes to at least once a year, reduce the case load for licensing inspectors, increase the annual training requirements for providers to 24 hours, including CPR and first aid renewal and limit providers to caring for not more than two infants and toddlers when older children are present.
Oregon state scored 36 points out of the possible 150, ranking 35th from the top and below Arkansas and California and two points above Nevada. While Oregon's strengths - all family child-care homes are inspected once a year in unannounced inspections and providers are permitted to care for no more than two infants and toddlers when older children are on site - the list of weaknesses is twice as long.
The association said Oregon had a number of issues, including:
- Child-care licensing staff have an average case load of 285 programs and are not required to have a bachelor's degree.
- Inspection reports are not available online.
- Providers are required to undergo background checks, but these checks are completed without a state fingerprint check.
- Providers are not required to have a high school degree or GED.
- Providers are required to complete only seven hours of initial training plus CPR and first aid and only four hours of those trainings annually.
- Providers are not required to offer toys and materials in any specific developmental domains.
- Requirements do not address safety standards for cribs and outdoor playground surfaces.
Oregon needs to take several steps, the association said - require every family child-care home caring for one unrelated child or more for pay to be licensed, reduce case load for licensing inspectors, ensure licensing staff have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or related field, put inspection reports available online and require the use of state fingerprints for checking individuals' criminal history.
To raise its ranking, the state also needs to require providers to have a high school degree or GED and complete a Child Development certification or higher within three years, raise initial training requirements for providers to 40 hours, including CPR and first aid, require providers to offer toys and materials in all of the recommended developmental stages and make sure providers address all recommended safety standards.
For more information, go to www.naccrra.org.