LAX OVERSIGHT: Iowa Daycare Regulations

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

****This story was originally posted in 2012 but we wanted to share it again because more stringent regulations regarding daycare in Iowa have yet to be made****

It is one of the most important decisions a parent will ever make:  Who will watch my child?

Many parents choose in-home daycare.  It’s typically cheaper than a daycare center, offers greater flexibility and parents may feel they receive more personalized care.  But they’re not as tightly regulated.  In-home providers aren’t required to register with the state, unless they care for more than five children, and there are no routine inspections.

“That’s been a controversy in Iowa,” says Roger Munns, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

A nationwide survey released this year by the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies ranks Iowa 43rd when it comes to oversight of in-home daycares.  And it’s one of eight states to receive a score of zero because inspections are not conducted prior to registration.

“Our law does not require a visit prior to opening your home child care,” says Munns.

They’re not routinely inspected after opening either.

“If there’s a complaint, we’ll go,” says Munns.

DHS also conducts spot checks, but Munns says it doesn’t have the staff for annual inspections.

“There’s no dedicated staff that’s called childcare monitors.  This falls to the people who do other work and they try to get in this work too.”

Staffing also prohibits DHS from following up after an in-home day care provider has been shut down.  From April 2011 to January 2012, DHS revoked more than 140 registrations for in-home daycares.  We sent a producer and a hidden camera to four of them.

Two of them were honest about the revocation.  The others were not.

Michele Bowers voluntarily gave up her registration after a spot check by the state in November.  Inspectors documented a number of violations, including a lack of CPR and first aid training.

Bowers is still watching children, but the number of children in her care – just five – doesn’t require her to be registered.  That’s not the case at the home of Connie Bliss, who watches 12 children, including Traci Sharr’s son.

“Connie loves her kids very much,” says Sharr.

That may be true, but Bliss is breaking the law.

Bliss relinquished her registration on December 31, 2011 after DHS cited her for several safety violations, including too many children in her care, no fire extinguisher and no CPR or first aid training.  At the time, she told DHS she planned to retire.

When our producer asked her about childcare, Bliss said she was registered and might have an opening in the summer.

No one from DHS followed up to find out if Bliss continued to provide childcare.  When we returned to her home, she eventually acknowledged she was not registered.

Registration or not, Sharr says she trusts Bliss with her child.

“It doesn’t concern me necessarily.  It’s not revoked because of child abuse.  My child is not endangered.  I still believe my child is getting great care.”

But the lack of registration does concern the DHS.  It shut down Bliss’ daycare the day after our visit.

When asked if DHS is confident most in home daycares are safe and providing good care, Munns says “that’s a hard question to answer.”

In Iowa, a registration really only guarantees one thing – that the state has conducted a criminal background check on the daycare provider.

“Our regulation of in-home child care is not the most robust in the country,” says Munns.  “It has never been and it has been an issue for some time.”

Ultimately, parents bear the burden of checking up on their daycare provider.  Trusting the state, or anyone else, may be leaving your child’s safety and well being to chance.

Click here to search court records for your daycare provider.

Click here to see if your daycare provider is registered with the state.

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