Day care in short supply

Published 11:22 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005

By By JULIE RUSSELL-The Brewton Standard
The closing of Noah's Ark daycare center, earlier this summer left some parents wondering where to send their children during the daytime.
When Noah Ark closed, that left only the Brewton Area YMCA, licensed by the state, and Small Wonders, licensed by the county, operating day cares in the Brewton-East Brewton area.
Two workers at the Department of Human Resources (DHR), director Lynn Barnes and resource worker Tracie James, know first-hand that the lack of daycare facilities – not only in the immediate area, but also the county – is problematic for many families.
The standards that Barnes refers to are the guidelines that a facility must meet before a daycare can be set up.
There are two types of daycare facilities – daycares in homes and daycare centers in public buildings – each of which must meet specific criteria.
Daycare centers must be licensed by DHR in Montgomery. The office in Brewton focuses on licensing daycare homes, which have a more stringent list of qualifications.
In order to become a daycare provider in your home, a number of minimum standards must be met. For example, the home must first of all be safe. This means the home must have a certain amount of square feet per child, yards must be fenced in, pools must be covered, and medicines must be locked up. The daycare provider must have a certain amount of training, must know CPR and first aid, must be free of contagious diseases and must pass a background check.
For the most part, daycare homes can only provide services for up to six children at a time.
Barnes said that running a daycare facility is a difficult business because there is a risk of liability involved, as well as many personal expenses. Daycare providers must supply children with things like play equipment and cots. They also must be organized, vigilant on medication logs and have insurance on vehicles if transportation is needed.
While these things do make it difficult for any daycare facility to start, there is a strong need for childcare in the area. The biggest problem with not having daycares readily available, James explained, is that many parents will resort to leaving their children with unlicensed workers.
Unlicensed homes will be shut down immediately, as they are a liability not only for the person running it, but also to DHR. The penalty for running an unlicensed daycare facility can be up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail. An "unlicensed daycare home" is defined as a non-relative being the primary caretaker of one child in a time period of four hours.
However, a person coming into your own home to take care of your child does not fit in the category of an "unlicensed daycare home."
If you are aware of any unlicensed facilities, you may report them to DHR anonymously.
James also advises parents to examine daycare homes and centers before sending their children to the facilities. She suggests looking for a clean and spacious environment. Also, because children need structure and stability, question the daycare provider about the schedule your child's days.
If you are interested in running a daycare out of your home, contact DHR, where you will receive a list of things to do to get your home in order.
There are currently 15 daycare homes licensed in the county, only three of which are in Brewton.