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"There is no greater responsibility of DSS than ensuring the safety and security of children," said Nichols. "As we have done with our child residential licensing program, we will systematically review our policies, work with providers, make revisions to regulations and assess all facilities to provide quality care for children, consistent standards for providers and better procedures for our licensing staff."
Nichols outlined five main steps in reforming child care licensing:
- Formation of an advisory group to provide input and guidance on proposed rules, regulations and standards
- Assess a select number of facilities within the next 90 days
- Assess all 1,906 child care centers in the state over the next year
- Strengthen child care regulations and develop policies and procedures to improve child safety
- Restructure the Division of Child Care licensing program and staff
Centers that DSS will assess over the next 90 days have previously had their licenses revoked and reinstated, or have deficiencies on record that raise risk or safety concerns. Following the review of the identified centers, DSS will conduct a review over the coming year of the remaining child care centers in the same manner as their licenses come up for renewal.
In early September, Secretary Nichols issued an emergency rule that disqualifies any child care, child residential or adult residential facility from reapplying for a new license for a period of two years if that facility's licensure application is denied or if the facility's license is revoked, not renewed, or voluntarily surrendered to avoid adverse action due to the provider's failure to comply with state statutes and licensing rules. According to the rule, DSS will not accept a subsequent application for that facility or any new facility in which the owner, director or affiliate of the original facility is involved for a minimum period of two years after that facility's license revocation, denial, non-renewal, or surrender. A copy of the emergency rule can be found at www.dss.state.la.us/childcareupdates.
"Prior to DSS issuing the recent emergency rule, facilities cited for violations and non-compliance with licensing standards were allowed to immediately reapply for a new license after taking corrective action," Nichols said. "We will thoroughly assess any center with a prior revocation to ensure that these centers continue to meet the required licensing standards."
Following a review of the minimum standards and requirements for child care centers, DSS will rewrite the regulations to strengthen child care licensing policies and develop procedures for staff that will ensure consistent application of the standards for all child care centers statewide.
After the revised regulations are developed, DSS will hold statewide meetings with child care providers and the public to receive feedback and finalize the changes with the goal of having the new standards in place at the beginning of the 2010 school year.
Restructuring child care licensing will provide the program's 22 field staff with individually assigned caseloads, which will provide greater consistency in inspections, follow national best practices, and help build better relationships between DSS staff and child care providers.
Nichols said DSS began assessing the child care licensing program after Senate Bill 238 by Senator Willie Mount became effective on June 30, 2009, which gave sole authority for decisions on the denial and revocation of child care licenses to DSS. Previously only two outside committees, which were abolished by statute, had the authority to revoke a license, deny an application or approve licensing regulations. Since July 1, DSS has revoked nine child care licenses and denied three applications.
In July 2009, DSS engaged nationally recognized child care licensing consultants Judy Collins of Oklahoma and Lisa Deaton of Louisiana to assist in redesigning DSS' licensing operations, systems and policies. In August, child care licensing staff participated in a strategic planning session to study implementation of best practices in licensing, assignment of caseloads and training.
As part of the reforms and fulfilling its goal to be more transparent, DSS now provides all child care licensing inspection reports conducted after August 1 to be viewable online at carefacility.dss.louisiana.gov. Facilities can be searched by name, zip code, parish, license number or license type.
These child care reforms come on the heels of overall reforms to the child residential care standards in July of this year. The revisions were a result of a joint effort by DSS staff, child residential care providers and stakeholders to review the residential licensing process, which began at Nichols' request in October 2008.
Additional measures to ensure the safety of children include the passage of House Bill 906 by Representative Nancy Landry, which requires beginning in January 2010 that each owner, operator, current or prospective employee, or volunteer of a child care facility disclose annually or upon request by DSS whether their name appears in state central registry for a justified finding of abuse or neglect.
DSS also is developing systems to automate child day care time and attendance to provide greater accuracy in payments from the Child Care Assistance Program, increase cost-savings for the program and improve safety for children.
Long-term, DSS is working to increase participation in the Quality Start Star Child Care Rating System (QRS), which rates child care centers based on a five star system and provides tax incentives for child care centers that commit to quality improvement through staff to child ratios and staff training. Currently, approximately 40 percent of licensed child care centers participate in QRS.
Additionally, DSS will develop a system to combine the current registration processes for family child care homes that exists in DSS and the Department of Education into a new, strengthened licensing system for these homes. Louisiana is one of only seven states that does not register or license family child care homes.
For more information on DSS' work to reform child care licensing and improve quality child care for children, visit www.dss.louisiana.gov.