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About 13 percent of in-home child care providers reviewed since August are having their state funding revoked under a new Utah law.
Director of Utah's Office of Work and Family Life Lynette Rasmussen says she was worried family, friends and neighbors taking care of kids weren't meeting the same standards as licensed day cares. The licensed providers are required to get regular background checks; the unlicensed ones were not.
"And our challenge was that while we suspected this, we did not have the legislative authority to do any more than suspect or spot-check," Rasmussen said.
So her office went to lawmakers and asked for across-the-board background checks of all child care providers, licensed or not. The new law went into effect in July, and the first background checks were performed beginning in August.
So far 1,300 of the 3,000 unlicensed family, friend and neighbor providers have been reviewed. Of that number, about 180 are now considered ineligible for state subsidy money.
Utah state law requires parents be given maximum choice in their child care, which means parents can choose to apply for subsidies to help them cover care with a family, friend or neighbor rather than a licensed daycare. Rasmussen says child safety was her first motivation, but ensuring state money was being used appropriately was also a big concern.
"We want to make sure that childcare funds are valuable and they're protected, and that they're used with the utmost integrity," she said.
Rasmussen says the new state law has given her peace of mind about both concerns. "We feel more confident that the care that kids are receiving in our state is safe and of higher quality, and we also feel confident that we are protecting the integrity of our DWS child care program and the funds," she said.
If a family's first choice in child care fails to pass the background check, Rasmussen says the parents are contacted and offered help in locating another qualified caregiver for their children.
About 1,700 of the state's unlicensed day cares still need review. Once those are finished, the checks will continue every two years.