By ZAIRA MAGOMEDOVA
Capital News Service
LANSING — The capacity of family and group child care homes could be slightly increased by state lawmakers, but some critics worry that the change might harm the quality of day care services.
Michigan family child care homes with one adult provider can accept no more than six children. Legislation introduced by Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, would allow them to take seven. The number that could be looked after by group child care homes with two adult providers would expand from 12 to 14. The legislation is a part of the package aimed at enhancing the state child care system.
Family child care and group care homes are private residences that provide day care. Preschool curriculum is also offered by some of the providers.
“These bills are very, very important because child care in the state is in terrible shape,“ O’Malley said. “Seventy-five percent of children in Michigan live in areas with limited access to child care. In the bigger communities there are more centers, but it is not the case with rural areas, where centers are not that prevalent.”
The bills could improve the state’s employment, he said. “Employers are losing employees who don’t have access to day care. We are helping parents who cannot get a job because they have no place to put their children.”
The legislation could also bring back those providers who had to leave the day care business due to the hardships of the pandemic, he said.
The bills have bipartisan support.
“We do support all of the bills in the package, we are very excited about the bipartisan focus on child care,” said Alex Rossman, the Michigan League for Public Policy communications director. “However, we are a little apprehensive of changing the ratios of child care workers to children.”
His group advocates for a sunset that allows the law to be reevaluated after a period to decide if it should be extended or ended.
The national standard of group sizes in home-based child care is no more than six, Rossman said. That capacity is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and National Association for the Education of Young Children.
“I think that the bills were introduced in response to some of the challenges that child care providers have during the pandemic,” Rossman said. “So what we are advocating for is the ratio change to be done temporarily, as we are hopeful that the impact of the pandemic both on public health and the economy will be temporary. ”
Day care providers say that how many children they can handle depends on their age.
“I do believe that one provider can care for seven children,” said LaTonya Glover, the owner of Bright Beginnings Child Care in Detroit. “However, it really depends on the number of caregivers that are there and the ages of children.”
Others are cautious about the change.
“Asking adults to take care of more children increases the risk of a problem occurring for those children and the adults,” said Lindsey Potter, the vice president of the Childcare Providers Association of Michigan. “When we go from caring for six to seven children, it increases the number of times we are in the restroom with children, or increases the number of food we are making for lunchtime.
“And all of those times are away from direct care for children.”
Although she understands the intent of the legislation, Potter said she prefers to “maintain small group sizes, so that adults and children can be well-respected instead of just adding more work in order to gain more money.”
According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, 44% of the Michigan population lives in child care deserts. That means that there are three times more children ages 0-5 than the number of licensed child care spots.
“This child care package is something we have been working on for several years,” O’Malley said. “We now have got a very nice basic compromise with the governor’s office, with Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate, so I think we are in a good position.”