Kerri Tietgen, center, the CEO of EmBe in Sioux Falls, speaks during a hearing on proposed changes to South Dakota’s rules for child care providers. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
Child care organizations came out in force on Friday against looser rules for daycares that would let adults care for more children at once. The pushback came even as some daycare providers lauded the changes as “actionable” steps to address what they described as the state’s child care crisis.
Among other adjustments, the proposal from the Department of Social Services would:
- Up the number of children five or older who could be cared for by a single adult to 15, up from 10 in the current rules,
- Allow an in-home provider to care for up to three infants and up to nine other children, and allow up to four of those additional children to be younger than two;
- Allow children older than 18 months to be monitored by hearing during naptimes at child care centers, rather than by both hearing and seeing,
- Cut the number of required training hours for child care providers from 20 a year to 10;
- Require providers to follow the safe sleep guidelines for infants and young children offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and;
- Count a provider’s children toward their adult-to-child ratios.
The proposed administrative rules, which will have a hearing before the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee on June 13, are meant to address a severe shortage in openings at daycares.
Ratios trouble advocates
While many of the advocates who gathered at the DSS building in Sioux Falls for the public hearing acknowledged the dire nature of the shortage, the vast majority of those offering comments were opposed to the change in adult-to-child ratios and reduced training hours.
Kayla Klein of Early Learner South Dakota, for example, said “we fully understand that there is a child care crisis” in the state, but that the new rules would do a disservice to children.
“We need to bring in other entities, like economic development and businesses (to address this),” she said.
“It shouldn’t just be on the state, nor should we find quick fixes,” Klein said. “Why don’t we instead look for ways to incentivize and support providers and give them more and help?”
Klein ran through a series of comparisons to show that South Dakota already allows more children to be supervised by a single adult than neighboring states. The training requirement change, meanwhile, would mean fewer hours for South Dakota providers than their counterparts in all neighboring states but Iowa, which requires 10 hours a year.
If the ratio changes don’t pass, Klein said, “we need to remember that we will still allow more children in a home than any other state.”
The question of ratios was also top of mind for Karen Rieck, a child care provider from Sioux Falls and a board member of the South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children.
Adding one more infant would ease the crisis, Rieck said, but she said adjusting ratios isn’t the right approach.
“While I do not have a proposed solution, I am also willing to discuss and throw ideas back and forth to come up with a plausible solution,” Rieck said.
Huron provider Marianne Freng was more blunt. “Even if she’s superwoman,” Freng said, no single provider would be able to get three infants and nine other children out of a center during a fire, especially if four of the other children are younger than two.
“I honestly feel with the infant ratio, we’re going backwards,” Freng said. “We’re going backwards, so far backwards it’s an unsafe environment.”
Kerri Tietgen, meanwhile, the CEO of EmBe in Sioux Falls, said her organization wouldn’t take advantage of higher ratios for younger children. It would likely benefit from higher ratios in school-age children, but “we’ll still be observing a 1-to-10 ratio in our four- and five-year-old classrooms,” she said.
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‘Moving in the right direction’
Most of the advocates and providers who disagreed with the new ratios and training changes nonetheless praised the new infant sleep safety guidelines and the streamlining and simplification of the guidelines that accompany the 51-page rules proposal.
Several providers listened to the hearing remotely but did not offer comments for or against. At least two who did offer comments told the group that the changes represent concrete, workable solutions that would make an impact for parents immediately.
Without a change to ratios, said Corri Poore, of Little Tykes University in Sioux Falls, the work of rewriting child care rules would do little to ease the burden for the desperate families he says call on a daily basis seeking care.
“I hope we can also enhance quality systems that will keep things safe, but I don’t think anything less than at least changing the ratios to what has been presented will make a difference,” said Poore, who described the changes as “actionable” steps to address the problem.
Leslie Rodriguez of Rapid City said she also fields daily desperation calls from parents at her daycare in Blackhawk. More needs to be done, she said, but the new rules will help those parents.
“I do feel that the changes that the state has proposed are moving in the right direction to try to help us achieve mitigating this crisis,” she said.
The DSS will continue to take written comments online at https://rules.sd.gov/ until May 22.
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