Michigan Must Ensure the Safety of Young Children in Child Care

 

Child care is a fact of life for the majority of Michigan parents, yet federal audits and studies have shown that because Michigan does not have enough child care inspectors, parents cannot rest assured that the care they choose is safe and meets even basic state licensing standards. To ensure basic health and safety, all child care centers and homes in the state are required to be licensed or registered, whether or not they accept low-income children receiving a state subsidy.

Nearly 60% of young children in Michigan live in homes where all parents are working, and more than half are in care at least one time each week. Without safe and stable child care, parents cannot work to support their children, and employers face threats to their bottom line from employee absenteeism and turnover.

Michigan’s Failure to Protect Children Exposed in Federal Audits

In unannounced visits, federal auditors found:

  • Half of the child care home providers and all of the centers that they visited had not done all required criminal record and protective services background checks on employees and other caregivers.
  • Centers that were not safe for children because of such violations as a blocked fire exit, hazardous substances within the reach of children, recalled cribs and unsupervised toddlers.

In national studies, Michigan was given a D grade because even though the state’s licensing regulations are adequate, it fails to ensure that providers are actually following the rules. Child care homes received a grade of F because Michigan is one of eight states that does not inspect homes before registration, and state law could allow for inspections only once every 10 years.

The Problem: Too Few Child Care Inspectors and High Caseloads

  • Too few child care inspectors: Federal auditors point to the insufficient number of child care inspectors as the primary weakness in Michigan’s licensing system. Michigan currently has 70 child care licensing inspectors, with caseloads of 153 child care settings for every inspector. By contrast, the national average is 98:1, and the recommended standard is 50:1.
  • Thorough inspections are needed to ensure child safety: Currently, the on-site inspection of a child care center takes between five and 15 hours, depending on the amount of travel time required as well as the size of the center and the existence of any safety violations. Child care home inspections take between three and 10 hours. In addition to on-site inspections, workers must complete incident and other reports, review and approve corrective action plans, conduct investigations on facilities operating without a license or registration, and respond to complaints. Because there are 70 inspectors spread out over 83 counties, travel times can be as high as 60 minutes one way in south central lower Michigan to 120 miles in northern lower Michigan. In the Upper Peninsula, workers may need to drive up to 200 miles one way to complete an inspection.
  • Changes in federal law will increase workload: 
    • With high caseloads, Michigan cannot meet its current responsibilities to ensure safety for young children in care.
    • By Nov. 2016, the state will be required by federal law to step up its oversight to include a pre-licensure inspection for all centers and homes, as well as a yearly unannounced visit.
    • In addition, annual inspections of unlicensed providers receiving a state subsidy will be required. The Office of Great Start has testified that it cannot meet the new federal standards with its current staff.

The Solution

The governor’s 2016 budget includes $5.7 million in federal funds to hire new licensing inspectors and bring caseloads to the current national average of one inspector for every 98 child care settings. Because of declining child care caseloads, Michigan has additional federal Child Care Development Fund dollars to spend on quality improvements next year. Federal funds that are not spent will be returned to the federal government and reallocated to other states. No state dollars will be needed to provide this extra protection for Michigan’s children.