by Marian Ruth Turner, Coalition on Provider Vulnerability
Marian Turner was a postal letter carrier before opening her family
child care business in 1971. She enjoys baking, bookkeeping, research,
mythic storytelling, and physical care. After 32 years of ten- hour
her back aches, and she can't sit at meetings anymore, but she still
think of a better job than family day care. Marian likes learning, and
(Copywright 1999. This essay may be reproduced, but you must give credit to Marian Ruth Turner and the Family Child Care Page.)
Have you heard about that provider? the one who broke the baby's arm? the one who let the school-ager get into the matches? the one who's teenage son was fondling the 5-year-old?
Some people accused of child maltreatment are innocent. Some are guilty. Some are in the middle. You can't tell which is which. Innocent people and guilty people say the same things, and show the same distress.
If a neighbor's house is gutted by fire, and you know for certain they smoke in bed, would you refuse to let them use your telephone?
Whether innocent or guilty, caregivers who go through a maltreatment allegation undergo profound grief, just as if someone had died. The stages of grief sweep through, affecting sleep, appetite and self-esteem. Afterwards, healing is slow, hampered by post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is heavy stuff.
My interest in providers' rights began, in part, because society changed very fast during the 70s and 80s, our ideas on child-rearing changed. I heard stories of caregivers who were fired on-the-spot or had a license revoked because of behaviors that would have been fine in 1970, but not in 1985. The flush labor market supported a throw-away attitude toward workers. There was little training and no support available to guide providers in adjusting to the new rules.
Maltreatment allegations are a risk for all caregivers, in nursing homes, foster homes, day care centers, and family child care homes, regardless of their commitment, training, or skill.
Some risk of maltreatment allegation is in the very nature of the work, being immersed with a vulnerable population. Our culture is ambivalent about adult-child relationships.
My interest in providers' rights began, in part, because of the
provider who is my business partner. At the annual 'Men In
Care' retreat he learned new finger plays. He also heard discussions
after year on how to guard yourself from exaggerated fears of sexual
with children. Minnesota is a leader in encouraging men to enter the
but most of them don't stay long.
It is possible, and important, to improve the current system of maltreatment investigation. Children and adults both need to know they will not be sacrificed by mistake.
In the ideal, providers would say that no matter how unpleasant it was to go through that investigation, they were impressed with the process, and the staff's professional behavior.
We cannot in the long run protect one group by sacrificing another group.
My interest in providers' rights crystalized when I observed an
incompetent investigation. With my general knowledge of family child
I could see and interpret things that were obvious to me, but were
invisible to the investigator. This provider lost thousands in legal
and suffered irreparable damage to her reputation.
Your demeanor can be civilized. Your courtesy (or lack) will be the one thing everyone notices and remembers. Superficial? No. You have duties.
Be persistent, business-like, knowledgeable. You have rights.
Document your own investigation. Log, tape record, keep notes. This can take months or years.
Remember, people who are accused of child maltreatment should never be labeled as child abusers by co-workers, neighbors, or rivals. It is unattractive, unkind, and unprofessional, and it might be untrue.
When the Coalition on Provider Vulnerability began meeting, 50 people came, mostly by word of mouth. They were from centers, family child care homes, foster care, and group homes. Subsequent meetings included volunteer attorneys, a retired judge, social workers, an anonymous licensing worker, all troubled by an imperfect regulatory system that harms people. This is not a fringe issue.
Rules can encourage and support quality by standardizing the behaviors in the field. This eliminates both the very worst and the most brilliantly best, leaving a great average middle. While not totally exterminating the colorful eccentricity that used to exist, licensing does make child care programs more predictable.
Quality always comes from within. Quality is intentionality. Standardization is not quality, but it does allow the public and the regulators to see and count and judge certain program qualities.
I heard the whining, furious, shamed voices of people caught in
unexpected legal and financial nightmare. Some of them are literally
they have no rights, told they are not allowed to speak to anyone,
with having their own children taken for 'neglect' if they fight the
Adults and children have memory confusion. Saying that children invent memories is not an insult to children. Adult witnesses of crime scenes are notorious for contradictory accounts. Research on memory is incredibly interesting.
Children say untrue things at a high rate, and they also stun us with accurate, insightful truths.
Of course, children's confidences should be listened to. Their stories should not be dismissed as outrageous fabrications, even if sometimes they are. A good comparison is the citizen who jokes at the airport about smuggling a bomb in his suitcase. Suddenly he is the center of attention. He can say it is just a joke, but he and the suitcase will be scrutinized, just in case.
Interviewing children is a specialty, eliciting information without contaminating possible evidence. Recording the interview is critical.
My passion for the issue of providers' rights pushed me to
my shy reluctance for public speaking. The aura of a basic civil rights
struggle is not just illusion, and it gave me courage. When people
explained that providers had to sacrifice their rights in order to
the well-being of children, I just knew it was Wrong. If I couldn't
the field safer, it would be time to get out. In other organizations I
took minutes or chaired the bylaws committee. In the Coalition on
Vulnerability, I became Convenor of the meetings.
Comparing child care homes with centers is like comparing soccer and basketball. They both have a team, they both have a ball, but... one group is always using hands on the ball, the other group is using their feet.
Informal community standards tell the story. For example: mixed-age groups are better than separated ages. Play is better than instruction. Pot luck suppers are better than meetings.
Don't agree? Fine; many providers don't.
Themes emerged among the sad stories, and the Coalition focused on practical action. We took several years to brainstorm on all the perceived weaknesses in the regulatory and protection systems, taking in many viewpoints on what to 'fix'.
Agencies always have some great staff and some rotten staff. We wanted to strengthen the built-in structures so the rotten staff would be held accountable, just like we are, and the great staff would not be punished by adding a great burden of unworkable rules.
What looks different isn't bad.
Robin, M. (Ed), multiple authors (1991). Assessing Child
Reports: The Problem of False Allegations. Child & Youth
15 (2), entire issue. Haworth Press.
Phipps-Yonas, S., Yonas, A., Turner, M., & Kauper, M. (1993).
in Early Childhood: The Observations and Opinions of Family Daycare
Reporter, 23 (2), 1-5. University of Minnesota.
Kulp, J. (1993). Families at Risk: a guide to understanding and
children and child care providers involved in out-of-home or adoptive
Minneapolis, MN: Better Endings New Beginnings.
Jordan, N.(1993). Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs in Early
Education: A Caveat. Young Children, 48 (6) 76-79.
Hammerslough, J. (1998). Could You Be Accused of Child Neglect? Parenting,
June/July 1998, 122-129.
Rev. March 3, 2004