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Orr: Time to revisit licensing requirements on small, in-home child care providers

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A north Alabama lawmaker says it’s time to revisit the requirement that anyone providing care in their home for one child or more must be licensed by the state.

“When you look at our surrounding states, our current system appears to be highly restrictive,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News recently. “And given the COVID situation with working parents trying to find child care for their children, offering more possibilities is certainly a good thing.”

The state requires a license for anyone providing in-home care to a child not related to them for more than four hours in a 24-hour period.

Orr said he plans to pre-file soon a bill easing that licensing burden. Options under his legislation could include exempting in-home providers of up to four children and creating a voluntary registration or requirements for exemption, including CPR and first aid training and background checks.

Current law says in-home providers can care for up to six children, depending on their ages. Licensing requirements include: Department of Human Resources and fire department inspections; a medical report on the provider’s health from a doctor; a criminal background check; CPR and first aid training and 24 hours of child care and development training.

“I think there are unneeded barriers to entry to allowing more in-home child care in the state and those barriers need to come down,” Orr said. “But, by the same token, we need some reasonable, minimal standards for the caregiver and the facility. And I think that can be accomplished.”

Mississippi allows for care of up to five children without requiring licensure and Tennessee exempts providers from licensure if they care for fewer than five children, according to the Institute for Justice, which advocates and litigates for smaller government. It is assisting Orr with the legislation.

Georgia will exempt providers of up to two children in a home if they apply for exemptions. Florida, like Alabama, requires a license to care for one or more children.

“DHR is merely enforcing the laws that the Legislature has put on the books in past years and it is time for the Legislature to revisit this issue to help working families and to help responsible, qualified individuals,” Orr said.

Last month, DHR said 76% of all child care facilities in Alabama were open. That was an increase from 63% in late July and 12% in March when businesses shut down because of COVID-19. The agency in July established a grant program to help stabilize open child care providers and to encourage other facilities to reopen. The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care program provided $10.3 million in financial aid to 834 child care providers across the state, DHR said last month.

Prior to the coronavirus, there wasn’t enough child care in much of Alabama. A 2019 study showed that 60% of Alabamians lived in “day care desserts” where demand was greater than capacity.

Information on the number of in-home facilities in the state wasn’t available from DHR last week, but according to its 2019 annual report, there were 672 licensed child care homes in the state that year. There were 1,261 licensed child care centers and 558 church exempt child care facilities. The number of church exempt facilities has decreased recently. In 2018, Alabama lawmakers voted to require facilities to get licensed if they receive government funds. They also voted to put additional reporting requirements on unlicensed centers.

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