Indiana makes progress on child care

The below op-ed piece written by Ann D. Murtlow was published in The Indianapolis Star on Friday, June 21, 2013.

"Are you saying this wasn't required before?"

That is often the response I get when I tell people about new common-sense child-care requirements that take effect July 1. People are shocked to learn that those who often spend more than 50 hours each week with children haven't been required to pass a criminal background check or be at least 18 years old. They are shocked that only 25 percent of low-income children supported by government subsidies attend a high-quality program.

We are thankful that beginning July 1, our community will have access to safer child care because of legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence. Four important early education initiatives were enacted this session:

  • New common-sense health and safety standards will be required for child-care providers that accept taxpayer-funded Child Care Development Fund vouchers. They include keeping medicines out of reach, requiring supervisors be at least 18 years old and safe sleeping practices for infants.
  • To keep children safe, national criminal background checks will be required for all child-care employees and volunteers. Background checks have identified individuals with violent or child-abusing criminal histories seeking to work in child care.
  • An early education evaluation program and early education advisory committee will be created. The evaluation will help document the differences in school readiness of children in high-quality programs versus those in lower-rated or no programs.
  • Funding for a pre-kindergarten matching grant program ($2 million a year) for developing high-quality early education programs.

We commend the General Assembly and Gov. Pence for supporting efforts to improve quality care for children. United Way of Central Indiana highlighted this issue through its Kids Need Quality public awareness campaign launched in January.

These first steps are important, but more changes are needed. Important elements of the legislation were removed through the amendment process including fire codes, child-staff ratios and class size limitations that mirror licensing requirements, and staff training in child development. Research shows that child-staff ratios and the quality of the teacher are critical to quality. Our state tax and philanthropic dollars should be limited to safe, high-quality programs.

At United Way, we know education is the best path out of poverty and we have committed $12 million over the next 10 years for early learning strategies that will dramatically increase both the supply of and demand for high-quality child care. More than 4,000 children are already benefiting. Kids do need quality. Let's keep applying our collective common sense to ensure that we don't fail them!

— Ann D. Murtlow, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana