The Mess that is Day Care Licensing

    Minnesota family child care licensing practices are increasingly dominated by the desire to avoid even the mildest publicity risk, leading to micro-management of day care homes, harming the children and their families. Our Minnesota Department of Human Services and our day care licensing workers are turning family day care children into "Second Class Citizens", sacrificing the safety, healthy development, and civil rights of the children, their families, and their child care providers.
   Child care providers are being micro-managed, harassed, and humiliated. The number of licensed providers in the state has dropped from 17,000 to 11,000. In Hennepin County, where the regulations are the most problematic, the number of licensed providers has dropped from over 4,000 to a bit over 1,000.  
     Writing from personal experience, being a child care provider in Hennepin county has become more difficult, more embarrassing, and with a greater and greater requirement to provide sub-standard care to our children. The better a provider is, the more difficult will be their work life.  As the best providers know, raising children properly, successfully, always involves a little risk, a few adventures, a chance for kids to learn how to handle a challenge. The government reacts by making the regulations even more harmful, silly, wasteful, and foolish, thus driving away ever more high quality providers.
     Parents are gradually losing the family child care option. Children are being harmed. We need to do better.

     The Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota State Legislature, the Hennepin County Day Care Licensing Unit, and numerous individual licensing workers -- acting alone -- have been issuing large numbers of new licensing regulations which are not in our existing day care licensing rule, known as Rule 2 (9502.0300 to 9502.0445). Rule 2 has worked reasonably well for 40 years. Now that Rule is under attack.

    The new requirements and regulations have been subjected to little or no public review and seem to be motivated primarily by fear of bad publicity and the desire to avoid all risk to DHS and licensing workers, even at the cost of harming children, families, and child care providers.

     These presumably well-intentioned additions and changes to the day care licensing rule have several common features:  un-reviewed or minimally reviewed by parents, providers or relevant experts; ignorance of what is best for kids and their families; careless waste of the child care provider's valuable time, resources, and money; and nearly always cause more harm than benefit, hurting children and their families.

    Some of the new requirements were written as mis-guided responses to specific events, especially events which attracted negative publicity. Other of the new requirements are responses to imagined threats, or simply as ways for licensing workers and DHS staff to make their mark by "improving" child care standards. At least some are based simply on ignorance and fear of criticism. Item number one in my list of problematic new rules is an example of this last category.

     Unfortunately, this collection of licensing rule additions is long and complicated. I assure the reader that the changes taken as a whole paint a picture of a child care licensing system which is out of control, causing damage to the entire state of Minnesota. I ask your patience as you make your way through this lengthy compilation.

1.  Banning parent choice of sleeping positions for Infants.  Child care providers are forbidden to allow an infant (under one year of age) to sleep in a baby swing, in a car seat (even while traveling), a bouncy chair, a sling, a back-pack, a stroller, or their own arms. Providers are not allowed to swaddle babies, even if the baby needs swaddling to sleep well, even when requested by parents, even though swaddling is widely recognized as safe and effective.
   Only a firm crib mattress and a modern sleep sack are allowed, regardless of parents' requests for alternative sleeping arrangements. These new regulations hurt babies and violate the rights of their parents.
Sleeping baby in baby swing     If a family is having trouble with their baby sleeping poorly, parents may drive around until the baby falls asleep in her car seat. Safety extremists disapprove of this, but they cannot yet prevent it. If however the parents then bring the sleeping baby to their child's day care provider, and she is persuaded to allow the exhausted baby to finish her nap in the car seat, then she may lose her day care license. Yes, this has already happened.
     Although the ban on parent choice was passed by the Minnesota Legislature, it was passed with minimal public or provider review. The ban seems to be based on one preliminary research study of two-day-old newborns. This study determined that newborns who are left in car seats for extended periods of time experience a slight drop in blood oxygenation levels.
     If this same drop in blood oxygenation levels were to occur in much older infants, and this seems unlikely, then those older infants might be marginally more likely to die of SIDS if left in a car seat for a greatly extended period of time. 
Smiling baby in baby swing     However, we do not have the slightest evidence that occasional sleep in baby swings, car seats, strollers,  slings, or backpacks is in any way risky or harmful for older babies, two months and up. In fact, a variety of sleeping positions helps to prevent the flat head syndrome which is afflicting hundreds of thousands of infants.
     This ban on parent choice of sleeping arrangement is extraordinarily cruel. Many babies need to have options in order to sleep properly. In my child care home, we have cared for several infants who slept beautifully in a baby swing, and were almost completely unable to nap in a crib.
    Many desperate parents drive their babies around in a car until they find peaceful sleep. Without the option of a baby swing or a car seat nap, these babies cry and cry,  disturbing other children, sending stress levels through the roof
, eating poorly, perhaps failing to thrive. Worst of all, babies who cannot sleep, because of misguided micro-management by the day care licensing unit, may fail to develop basic trust, with lifelong consequences. All this harm has no excuse, no basis in fact.
    Check out this brief article from Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles:  no evidence for or against sleeping in a car seat.
    Here is a blog on car seats and SIDS. A major Canadian study indicated that in every case they studied, death of young infants in car seats was caused by the car experiencing a sudden lurch throwing the infants head forward. A "sudden lurch" is rather unlikely for a baby finishing out an occasional nap in a NON-moving car seat at home or in child care.
    Articles on car seats and SIDS emphasize that any warnings given to parents against excessive use of car seats applies to babies under two months of age, not the population of babies most commonly found in child care. In my child care home we have served only one baby under two months of age in over 35 years. She was five weeks old.
    The Internet is filled with endorsements of the value of infant swings, stories of  parents who describe these devices as "a life saver". How cruel that day care babies must suffer lack of sleep, and be made into "second-class-citizens" by safety extremists, who have no evidence that baby swings are harmful.  Click here to see that the SIDS network agrees that baby swings are safe.

2.  Violating the Mandated Reporter Law:  both county and state day care licensing staff routinely violate the intent and spirit of the Minnesota Mandated Reporter law, as well as the constitutional rights of child care providers.
I know this has happened at least once, because the licensing people did it to me. If what I was told by one DHS staff person is correct, this thwarting of Mandated Reporting -- by child care licensing staff -- has happened literally thousands of times, and still continues today. I will present the story of my own experience.
     A few years ago, three young school-age children hid in a closet and looked at each others privates. We caught them and reminded them that privates must remain private. We did not scold or punish anyone. Parents were immediately informed. No one was harmed, and no parent complained.
     Being a conscientious child care provider, I reported this incident to Hennepin County Day Care Licensing.
     After I self-reported this incident, Hennepin County Day Care Licensing created a correction order falsely claiming that they had "received a complaint regarding your licensed child care home". Even though no one had complained about us, the day care unit created a permanent public record which stated that a complaint had been lodged, but they could not reveal who had complained.

   Click here to see the Correction Order plus my hand written annotation.
    During the long and expensive process (over $8,000) of having the fake complaint removed from our record, I was told by several County and State DHS personal that what happened to us was standard operating procedure. One person at DHS claimed that they have re-characterized
a self-report of problems as a complaint against the provider  thousands of times. The DHS official expressed surprise that I was concerned. She said that I was the first provider to challenge this standard practice!
     So here is the situation, as was related to me. Every time a family child care provider follows the Minnesota Mandated Reporter Law, self-reporting an incident, that provider is punished with a non-existent anonymous complaint on their permanent public record! I find this amazing. The County and State are punishing honest child care providers who are responsible and follow the Mandated Reporter law. This is a clear violation of both the intent and spirit of the mandated reporter law, which was designed to protect people who report a problem. What our family day care licensing people are doing, at both the state and local level, directly thwarts mandated reporting.
Child care providers are told --falsely-- that someone they know, a client, employee, or neighbor, has secretly turned them in to the government. 
    I have no way of confirming that this has been done to any other child care providers beside myself. However, the several licensing people I spoke with were quite clear that what was done to me was normal. Please pause now and think about what is actually happening here in Minnesota. Child care providers are being told that someone they know, a client, employee, or 
neighbor, has secretly turned them in to the government. These are the terror tactics of the secret police, a totalitarian society creating fear, suspicion, and resentment.
     I have suggested to both DHS and to Hennepin County Day Care Licensing that to correct this situation, they need only record and post a self-report of an incidents as a "self-report", and not as a "complaint against your day care home".  I have received no response.

5.  Banning swimming at beaches.  See Item 4, Banning bunk beds.  Recently  the Hennepin County Day Care licensing unit has decided, with no public input or hearings, to ban all trips to the beach for Minneapolis day care children. The mechanism of this ban is the new requirement that a life guard be present whenever kids are taken to the beach, and Minneapolis has no lifeguards at the beach on weekdays.
     This ban is not required by the licensing rule. The rule requires that kids at the beach be supervised by an adult who can swim and is certified in CPR. Those simple requirements have always been sufficient. The ban on beach trips for family day care kids was not based on any problems with beach trips, no day care child has died at a Minneapolis beach, and requiring a life guard does not necessarily keep the kids safer.
     Drownings are actually much more common on weekends, when a lifeguard is present and the beaches are crowded and chaotic, and during evenings, when darkness and alcohol are often involved.
     If you visit a public beach on a weekday morning, when child care providers usually bring their kids, you will see very few kids in the water, and a  host of moms watching the kids. The number of adults watching is far greater than the number of kids in or near the water. The scene is quiet, with few or any teens, and little risky behavior.
     Again, I ask the reader to review what I said about banning bunk beds.  If we ban all risk, adventure, fun and excitement from the lives of our young children, those children will almost certainly take far greater risks later, when we can no longer protect them. As a natural part of growing up, children are driven to challenge themselves, to experience danger. We can allow small dangers, under our watchful eyes, when we can help and give advice, or we can be certain that he kids will choose far greater dangers, out of anger and resentment, when we are no longer around to stop them. Pay now or pay much more later.
     The day care licensing unit trades the false appearance of safety today for far greater danger later, when they, the licensing workers, can no longer be embarrased by a possible problem. In this way our family day care children are made into second class children, banned from ordinary activities, common fun, and healthy growth. Again.
Toddler playing with baby powder
6.  Fear of baby powder?  Yes, our licensing worker cited us, put a black mark on our permanent record, because our baby powder was too accessible, too close to the diapering surface.  
     The licensing worker told us that baby powder causes "suffocation".  Surprised, I asked what she meant.  She then claimed that baby powder causes "asphyxiation":  baby powder actually kills children who get hold of the bottle of powder.
     This is utter nonsense.  No child has ever died, not ever anywhere in the world, from playing with a can of baby powder.  They do make quite a mess, and have a little too much fun, so we are careful to keep the can closed, and prevent baby powder play.

7.  Flexible cord foolishness.  Everyone in Minnesota except family child care providers may use an extension cord. Electricians use them, state legislators use them, doctors, lawyers, and fire fighters all use extension cords. But not child care providers, not even if the cord is properly installed, meets the electrical code, and makes their day care home nicer and safer.
     Since the 1970's, the Hennepin County Day Care Licensing Unit has handed out a safety check list banning all "flexible cords",  including extension cords.
     If enforced as written, child care providers would not be allowed to have refrigerators, radios, lamps, computers, washing machines or driers in our homes. I have pointed out this problem in letters, and in person, dozens of times to various licensing workers and supervisors. Some listened with puzzlement, but no one has ever responded to my complaints.
     More recently, for the last five years or so, the day care licensing unit has adjusted their focus to banning extension cords, although they still also ban all "flexible cords". The focus on extension cords is perhaps less comical, but it is also more harmful, because of stricter enforcement.
    The day care licensing rule states "extension cords shall not be used as a substitute for permanent wiring". This actually makes sense, but the licensing workers and day care licensing unit clearly do not understand what the rule means, so they ban all extension cords, even when the cords are being used safely and properly.
   Just imagine if County "logic" on extension cords were applied to other things:
County says: "Extension cords may not be used as a substitute for permanent wiring, therefore extension cords may never be used at all."
Then: "Pencils may not be as a substitute for permanent ink, therefore pencils may never be used at all.
Diapers may not be used as a substitute for permanent plumbing fixtures (toilets), therefore diapers may never be used in Family Day Care Homes."
And:  "Water may not be used to sub for nutritious beverages such as milk or formula, therefore water may not be served in Licensed Family Day Care homes.  No child may drink water in a day care home.
     Our day care play room has twenty-two permanent outlets, generous by any standard. I used an extension cord with a flat plug to safely bring power to the top of a set of toy shelves, to plug in a boom box and a digital clock-sound machine. The flat plug, also called a right-angle plug, on the extension cord fits safely behind the shelves. If I plug the boom box and digital clock directly into the wall, then their "straight-line" cords are crushed, bent hard over, which is not safe. So, the extension cord I used increased safety.
     The amount of power used by the boom box plus the clock radio is tiny, about 23 watts. The extension cord is rated by UL labs to safely carry 1340 watts, giving us a huge safely margin. Plugging a boom box and a clock into an extension cord would be OK in any home in the world, unless that home is also a day care home in Hennepin county.
   Another example from my day care home:  we have wonderful "winter lights" suspended around the perimeter of our living room ceiling.  The ceiling is dark, solid oak beams. These white lights shimmer and twinkle in ever shifting patterns, against the dark oak ceiling. Beautiful.
    And valuable to our program. We work hard to teach our children that "Christmas is not everything. Materialism is not everything."  We teach the kids that WINTER is also to be celebrated.  After Christmas, we get out our white decorations, as opposed to red and green, and we put Father Winter and the lovely Ice Queen up where the kids can enjoy them.
    So, these white twinkling lights are a valuable and desirable part of our child care program. We had to solve the problem of having the kids safely turn on and off the lights every morning and night.  We tried several ideas, finally settling on a wonderful "extension cord" with a built in foot switch.  Safe and easy to operate. Zero shock hazard.  The kids loved it.
    Until our licensing worker said "no extension cords, ever."  I am really tired of this.

    This is how being a licensed child care provider is humiliating, difficult, and annoying. This is one more reason that the number of licensed providers is plummeting.
     Strangely, the licensing workers do allow us to replace an extension cord with an outlet strip. Apparently, they do not realize that an outlet strip is just another extension cord. Ironically, the outlet strips allow a provider to plug in more stuff, increasing the chances of overloading an electrical outlet. The ignorant enforcement of a poorly understood rule actually makes our homes less safe.
     I see it like this:  Forty+ years ago, some licensing worker or licensing supervisor was trying to write up guidelines. She or he knew little or nothing of electricity or electrical engineering, so she decided to "err-on-the-safe-side"!!  No extension cords and, while we are at it, no flexible cords, ever, period.
     Now, everyone in the licensing unit is afraid to challenge this nonsense.

8. Good training replaced by bad.  More and more of our training requirements are a waste of time, motivated entirely by headlines and fear of political embarrassment. This wasteful training is must be taken over and over, and has greatly reduced opportunities to take valuable training which we want and need.
     The silliest of these is the annual requirement that we take a class about Shaken Baby Syndrome.  We take this class again and again and again, as though the child care providers will suddenly forget and shake a baby. Yes, Sahken Baby Syndrome is horrible, but this requirement is a rediculous waste of valuable time.
     We are also required to take CPR classes again and again.  I have had CPR at least 14 times, each time using up an entire day.  Whan I take an all day CPR class, I generally do not have time to attend an all day training conference, so the CPR replaces my regular child care training.
      This would be OK, if we did not have a better alternative. However, studies have shown that a CPR class on DVD is more effective than the long, boring live classes. We could have one hour CPR classes on DVD as part of any all day training conference.  The video CPR class would be cheaper, much shorter, and still allow me and others to take more child care related training. Quality child care training is one way to avoid the need for CPR. An ounce of prevention...
  -- This section will be continued. --  
     -- See below for closing remarks and  my suggested solution to the licensing mess. --

The never-ending mess.  Minnesotans have allowed the government to be deeply involved in the care of more than half of our children, those children in licensed day care. The welfare and comfort of the licensing workers and the Minnesota Department of Human Services licensing staff has superseded the provision of high quality child care. To me this seems inevitable. I do not see any way to convince licensing workers to allow the normal risks which are absolutely essential to raising a healthy child and to attracting and keeping enthusiastic and skillful child care providers.
     Everything which makes life worth living carries risk, and can sometimes lead to problems, scandals, and embarrassment to government regulators.

     In my opinion the only solution to this is to eliminate child care licensing and replace it with registration. The state of Michigan has registration for family child care providers, and they have better outcomes than we do here in Minnesota. Michigan has fewer cases of SIDS in day care, as well as fewer injuries in day care homes.
     I have also been told informally that child care providers in Michigan are not quitting at the same precipitous levels as they are here in Minnesota, but I have not been able to confirm this. I myself would much rather be registered than licensed. My stress levels would be lower, my work life easier and simpler, our day care children would be safer, and the quality of care we provide would be significantly higher. Sad, but true.

Michael Kauper
Turner and Kauper Child Care Home