HHS tightens child care health, safety standards

By BenefitsPro

By Kathryn Mayer

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday it will, for the first time, impose tough national health and safety standards for all child care facilities that accept government subsidies.

Under the proposed rule, states, territories and tribes would be required to strengthen their standards to better promote the health, safety and school readiness of children in federally funded child care. That means universal background checks and fingerprinting of child care workers, and required safety and health training, such as CPR and first aid training. Workers also will be required to comply with applicable state and local fire, health and building codes.

The rule would only apply directly to child care providers who accept Child Care and Development Fund funds. More than 500,000 providers serve about 1.6 million low-income children through CCDF.

But the agency said many more children would benefit because the providers also serve non-CCDF children.

“Too many children remain in settings that do not meet minimum standards of health and safety. These basic rules ensure that providers take necessary basic steps to shield children from an avoidable tragedy,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

Standards for child care vary widely across the states. Many states don’t enforce basic standards such as background checks or first aid training for providers, a move that health officials say “puts our children at risk.”

The rule would also require states to share information with parents through user-friendly websites about provider health, safety and licensing information. While some states already post health and safety reports online, the new rule would bring all states up to this standard.

“Parents know the needs of their own children,” said Shannon Rudisill, director of the Office of Child Care. “However, parents don’t always have enough information to help them make the right choice when choosing a child care provider. This proposal would give parents the necessary tools to choose quality care that fully meets their needs.”

The Child Care and Development Fund was last reauthorized by Congress in 1996, when it was consolidated with three other federal child care programs for the poor.

Officials said the new rule does not reauthorize the Child Care and Development Fund, but proposes “long overdue reforms” to better ensure that low-income working families have access to safe, high-quality child care that is essential for healthy early childhood development.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com