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Legislation would jeopardize truth in advertising for child care facilities

Here’s a story to make a responsible parent’s blood boil. It concerns a bill wending its way through the General Assembly this session that would eliminate “truth in advertising” rules for licensed after-school child care facilities. At last word, advocates for kids were very concerned that it will be hard to stop.

First, a little background. Under longstanding North Carolina law, licensure for after-school facilities (many of which are located at public and private elementary schools) is optional. The reason that facilities seek licensure from the state is threefold: 1) to make their programs more appealing to parents – i.e., for marketing purposes, 2) to do the right thing, and perhaps most importantly, 3) to make themselves eligible for federal subsidies for low income kids.

Right now, in order to be licensed, a child care facility must meet several standards set out by the state Child Care Commission. Among these are a set of requirements regarding playground facilities. Meet the standards and you’re cool. Fail to meet them and your facility could face problems. Seems pretty obvious, huh? The playground standards were put in place years ago and have resulted in a drop-off in serious injuries.  

As a practical matter, what this often means for facilities with playgrounds that fall short is that parts of the playground will be declared off-limits. Currently, there are 748 public school after-school programs with voluntary licenses. Of this number, 280 have restrictions on their playgrounds because of things like rusty nails, splintered wood, old and dangerous slides and climbers (what some once called “jungle gyms”) that are too high off the ground and/or that have no padding on the ground around them.

All of which brings us to the proposed legislation. Under the bill, licensed facilities located in public and private elementary schools would no longer have to meet the state standards. Got that? The facilities will still get to hold themselves out as being blessed by the state, but they won’t have to meet state playground standards!

Talk about misleading advertising.

“But these are schools,” you say. “Don’t they have to meet state standards already?”

Well, actually, no. Strange as it may seem, these matters are left up to local school districts. And while that’s fine in many places, in many others it is not.

Again, as a practical matter, what this means is that kids who are unfortunate enough to live in poorer or less responsible school districts will simply be out of luck. And any pressure that state child care licensure might have formerly provided to local school districts to keep their playgrounds up to snuff will be eliminated.

At last word, proponents of the bill were floating an amendment that would require facilities to provide parents with some kind of form that would supposedly inform them of the change. Yeah, right. That’ll make a big difference.

The bottom line: This stinker of a bill will dramatically water down state licensure of child care facilities. Thousands of kids will be less safe and most parents won’t even know it. Now there’s progress.

Let’s hope lawmakers come to their senses.

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