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Child care changes 'a good step forward'

DULUTH — Minnesota family child care providers are embracing some small regulatory changes that could make a big difference in a profession that is shrinking fast.

"This was a good step forward," said Julie Seydel, a child care provider and public policy director for the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals. "A lot more needs to be done."

One of the changes enacted by the Minnesota Legislature this year, going into effect Wednesday, Aug. 1, is the removal of the requirement to have the children of providers fingerprinted for background checks.

"That was a huge overreach," Seydell said. "We had literally hundreds of providers who said they would quit if they had to provide their children's fingerprints."

That would have added to the hundreds of providers who already have left the profession in recent years around the state. In St. Louis County, between 2012 and 2017 the number of family child care providers fell from 311 to 230.

Child care centers may open to fill the gap, but they cost nearly $7,000 more per year for infant care, according to Child Care Aware USA, and a Center for Rural Policy and Development study says much of greater Minnesota may lack the density needed to support a center at all.

Amid the shortage, many parents now report putting their children on waiting lists for day care before they are even born.

Among the factors driving family providers out of the business, "inconsistent and punitive" enforcement by county licensors was highlighted alongside retirements and would-be providers finding "more profitable and less demanding" work, per a 2017 report from a legislative task force.

The Legislature lifted the punitive burden slightly this year when it removed the requirement that providers post correction orders at the door.

In January the News Tribune wrote about Duluth child care provider Cindy Giuliani, who said the posting requirement was emblematic of a toxic licensing atmosphere that was causing her to reconsider remaining in the profession she loved.

"Not all licensors are treating family care providers with disrespect, but the system as it stands allows for inconsistencies in licensing practices and an atmosphere that supports bullies in an authoritative role," she wrote in an email at the time.

Providers said that minor violations detailed in correction orders would hang like a "scarlet letter" for two years — long after the mistakes had been corrected. With the law change, only more serious conditional license orders will need to be posted at the front door — though correction orders and other actions will be available online for parents to reference at licensinglookup.dhs.state.mn.us.

The head of the Department of Human Services praised the changes, which build on a suite of reforms passed in 2017.

"We made significant progress during the 2018 legislative session toward addressing child care providers' concerns while ensuring that we do not compromise safety and quality," DHS Commissioner Emily Piper said in a statement. "Changes include more flexibility in staffing and repeal of some requirements such as posting correction orders in family child care homes and child care centers."

Other law changes include exempting family child care providers from new Positive Supports Rule training and requiring licensors to provide written notice to providers when they recommend serious licensing action to DHS.

Seydell and her organization will be pushing for more legislative changes next year, though she didn't have any specifics to share.

"What we're looking for is ways to reduce burdensome paperwork and regulations that don't have to do with health and safety standards," she said. "Some things on forms have nothing to do with health and safety, and if we can reduce that paperwork load that's a huge help."

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329
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