After-school programs and small home day cares could face stricter rules as lawmakers push for oversight of those now-unregulated child-care providers, members of a child-welfare panel said Thursday.
Currently, those child-care programs are exempt from regulations, including fire and health inspections, because they care for too few children or operate for no more than four hours a day, two days a week.
“A child can get hurt or injured quickly. I think this four-hour exception needs to be looked at, narrowed,” Jeff Thordahl, a lobbyist with the S.C. Association of Early Care and Education, told the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children Thursday.
Child-welfare advocates long have said the state knows too little about many of the people and organizations caring for children, including how many of them are operating.
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But the issue re-emerged on lawmakers’ radar this year when 3-month-old Kellie Rynn Martin of Greenville suffocated in a bassinet at a home day care.
Kellie’s mother Kathryn Martin did not know that the woman watching her child had previous complaints against her, did not need a license to operate and was not subject to inspections and regulations like larger child-care centers.
Authorities also found 14 children hiding in the basement with the child-care operator’s daughter, another child unattended in the yard and a loaded gun in a room.
State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, a member of the children’s committee, said Thursday that reviewing laws pertaining to child-care providers will be a top priority when lawmakers return in January.
Now, smaller child-care providers who watch no more than six children in their homes only need to register with the state. They also must undergo background checks.
Until this year, that registration was a paper-only process, requiring no in-home inspections from the S.C. Department of Social Services unless there was a complaint, said Leigh Bolick, that agency’s director of early care and education.
In response to Martin’s appeals for change, the General Assembly passed a law this year giving Social Services the authority to perform one unannounced visit to small day-care operators each year.
Bolick told the children’s panel Thursday the agency is working to inspect operators when they register.
After-school programs also are a growing concern, some speakers said, because they are rising in number, and parents do not know that they are not licensed or regulated.
Erickson, who owns a licensed day-care provider, said lawmakers tried to create a limited license for after-school programs last year. But those programs fought it “tooth and nail.”
However, Zelda Waymer, executive director of the S.C. Afterschool Alliance, said her association’s members – including large programs like the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA – told Erickson her group is open to revisiting the subject this year.