Potential changes to child care licensing process

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Cassie Shattuck, a local mother of three who works evening hours, knows how difficult it can be to juggle the responsibilities of taking care of a family and maintaining a job. That’s why she has joined a parent coalition and child care task force working together in an attempt to change child care licensing and registration laws in Michigan.

“When you’re looking for child care you want a choice, but right now you are just looking for something you can afford,” she said. “I think this will give parents a choice in who can take care of their kids. I think if done correctly, this will be positive overall.”

State Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, explained one of the main objectives of the child care task force, made up of state and local government officials, parents and business owners, is to change the child care licensing and registration process altogether.

“We are not trying to take away the level of safety in any way, but we need to lessen the burden,” she said.

Currently, to become registered a person must apply through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and complete a number of background checks and inspections. Once registered, there are then various requirements a person must continue to comply with to maintain their license, including the size of the facility the children are being cared for in, the ratio of adults to children and the overall condition of the facility.

According to Hoitenga, the task force is trying to restructure this system by forming a separate organization or board to issue licensing outside of LARA.

She explained the tentative plan for the board would include six to nine stakeholders with a director appointed by the governor.

“With a board, at least daycare providers and teachers will have a seat at the table,” Hoitenga said.

According to Hoitenga, part of the goal is also to eliminate or modify some of the regulations placed on child care providers which make it difficult for them to stay in business.

Hoitenga said multiple people throughout Michigan who own a daycare have come to her in recent years with concerns about what they feel are strict and unreasonable licensing regulations within the child care system, including one provider who said she faced charges of child neglect and spent five days in prison because a child she was caring for ran outside to the mailbox.

Due to stories like this, Hoitenga said the task force has completed the first draft of a piece of legislation which, if passed, will accomplish their goals of loosening some of the licensing regulations.

Although the child care task force is still working on the details, Hotienga and State Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, have been continuously working on the possible legislation and hope to see it move forward by the end of the year. She added because of the November general election it may take into next year to pass anything.

“I’m going to stay right on top of it and make it a priority,” Hoitenga said.

Mecosta County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Heinzman explained the county started this task force in recent years when officials began addressing ways to eliminate barriers to employment, and one of the biggest contributing factors they saw was a lack of daycare available to county residents.

She said although a parent may be able to find work, if they cannot locate a safe and reliable child care provider to look after their children while they are at work, their ability to accept the job is hindered. This problem was seen to be particularly high in people who worked second and third shifts.

This discovery led to the creation of a child care task force made up of members involved in local and state government, businesses and community agencies who are all working to tackle the issue.

“Our ultimate goal is employability,” said Heinzman. “What we’re hearing is there are far more jobs available than we have people to fill them, so now what we’re trying to do is fill gaps that would keep people from working.”

Mecosta-Osceola Great Start Collaborative Coordinator Jessica Wimmer explained to do this the collaborative is working with local businesses, churches and schools to encourage them to become more involved in offering child care to give parents more time to pursue work.

“Being a parent is your first job, but if you can put your full effort into your job, you will be doing it better,” Shattuck said.