Response to child care deficiencies credit to Georgia

Bad news can be the first chapter in a good story if one’s response to the ill tidings is to act on them. Just such a story is being played out in Georgia.

An alarming 2010 report by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies on the state of small family-owned child care centers ranked Georgia a dismal 38th. The state received a big round zero in one of the association’s most basic standards: Georgia did not inspect, or in some cases even visit, small home-based child-care centers before licensing them to operate for pay. (As an index of how we value the welfare of our children, such a state of affairs is nothing less than deplorable.)

The state has corrected that gross oversight, and made other improvements as well -- so many, in fact, that the same association’s latest ranking puts Georgia in the top 10, according to a Wednesday story in the Macon Telegraph.

Among the improvements reported are higher educational standards for child care providers, including a child development associate degree and continuing education; higher standards in educational activities for the children themselves; more frequent and stricter inspections; and more stringent health and safety requirements for the sites.

One glaring shortcoming that might have kept the state from ranking even higher than 10th is the lack of a requirement for criminal background checks and use of Georgia child abuse and sex offender registries. (A bill to require fingerprint background checks for day care center employees and applicants was introduced in the House, but failed to get action in the current session. The advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children continues to lobby for that requirement, and for more funding for support staff and inspection/licensing budgets.

One new program instituted by the Department of Early Care and Learning just this year is something called Quality Rated, a voluntary assessment and improvement program for child care. Obviously, the more day care businesses that take advantage of such a program, the better the situation can be for Georgia children and families.

DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle was justifiably pleased by the state’s dramatic rise in child care rankings.

“This significant improvement is a direct result of continuing efforts made by our providers,” Cagle told the Telegraph. “Our goal is to continue building on this improved performance to make early child care in Georgia among the best in the nation.”

A good next step would be for the legislature to move child care up a few notches on the political priority list. We can think of a few issues clogging the process that could be jettisoned painlessly – indeed, productively.