2018 Virginia General Assembly: Time to Address Child Care Safety

It’s January and for many states that means that State Legislatures are convening.  For a list of start dates for all state legislatures, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ list here.

Virginia’s State Legislature was sworn in January 10.  Because it’s an even numbered year, the General Assembly will meet for 60 days (which is considered the “long” session).  In odd numbered years, the General Assembly meets for 30 days.How a bill becomes a law

During the 60 day period, VA Senators and Delegates will review many bills with a very small percentage of bills that are introduced making it through the full process to become law.

Child Care Aware of Virginia is working with parents throughout the state to support legislation to promote the safety of children in child care.  Nearly 400,000 children under age 6 in Virginia have working parents, which means that on any given day, children may be in some type of child care setting.

All parents want their children to be safe in child care. In Virginia, there are two challenges faced by parents statewide:

  • Under state law, 14 categories of child care are license-exempt, which means no background checks for child care providers and no minimum provider training requirements for health & safety.  Since these are group care settings that do not occur in a residence, parents often do not find out that the program is unlicensed until a serious injury or death occurs.
  • Under state law, no one operating a child care business out of her home is required to have a license unless 5 unrelated children are in the home.  This means that in many areas of the state, particularly rural areas, parents have difficulty finding licensed care.

On January 3, 2018, four public hearings were held throughout the state. A number of parents and grandparents testified about the need to strengthen child care safety.  For example,

Elly Lafkin testified on behalf of her 3-month-old daughter, Cami, who died in a home-based child care program in Shenandoah.  When Cami died, the police investigated. A fingerprint-based background check was conducted on the provider. To the surprise of the Lafkins’, the provider had five alias names and was on felony probation at the time of Cami’s death. Elly urged legislators to not allow a fingerprint-based background check requirement to expire in July when it is scheduled to sunset.

Belle Colassaco testified on behalf of her toddler, Noah, who died in a home-based program in Chesterfield.  The provider had placed a 32 pound metal crate on top of the portable crib so that Noah would not stand up and instead lay down and take a nap. Noah died of accidental asphyxiation when his head became entrapped between the dog crate and the crib railing. Belle urged legislators to reduce the licensing threshold so that more home-based providers would have the health and safety training to keep children safe as well as pass legislation to promote the safety of children in license-exempt child care.

Herman and LuAnn Allen testified on behalf of their one year-old grandson, Joseph, who died as a result of a fire that occurred in an unlicensed child care home in Richmond.  The provider had lied to the Allens and told them she didn’t need a license because she only cared for a few children. In reality, she was caring for 10 children. She didn’t have working smoke detectors, a fire alarm, a fire extinguisher, an emergency evacuation plan, or even a list of children in her care.  The Allens urged legislators to figure out why Joseph’s Law was not working – prosecutors are not charging illegal providers who circumvent the law (those who should have a license but don’t) with a felony when a child dies. The Allens cited a provider in Virginia Beach who was charged with a misdemeanor despite the death of a 4 month-old girl while she was caring for 17 children and a provider in Chesterfield who was charged with a misdemeanor despite the death of a 3 month-old boy while she was caring for 16 children.

Dilyara Daminova testified on behalf of her 3 month-old baby, Olivia, who died in an unlicensed child care home in Arlington.  Olivia was placed to sleep in her snow suit, face down, on a mat on the floor. At 3 months old, she couldn’t turn over and the snow suit became a straight-jacket. The medical examiner’s report found that Olivia had 4 broken back ribs and internal bleeding, which likely occurred when the provider performed CPR incorrectly.  Dilyara urged legislators to reduce the licensing threshold in child care homes so that providers would have the training in CPR and safe sleep practices that could have saved Olivia’s life.

Child Care Aware of Virginia testified at all 4 public hearings (Richmond, Loudoun, Virginia Beach, and Radford) to urge legislators to:

  • Not let the current fingerprint-based background checks expire in July
  • Reduce the child care home licensing threshold
  • Address the safety of children in license-exempt care, and
  • Revise Joseph’s law if necessary so that illegal providers will be charged with a felony when a child dies

To date, 18 child care bills have been introduced in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly. The two primary committees with jurisdiction over child care safety are:

It’s time for Virginia legislators to support working parents. Of the few bills that will make it into law this year, those protecting the safety of children in child care will hopefully be among them. Children should not be left to chance.