DEL's licensing work is guided by state laws, state rules, which are also called WACs (Washington Administrative Codes), and internal DEL policies and procedures.
Enforcing Washington's laws in child care across the state is a demanding and challenging job--it is practiced by many DEL employees each day. The following post was written after spending a full day shadowing a DEL licensor while she worked in the field.
The average day for a licensor begins like any other state employee's--coffee, checking email, answering phone calls. For a licensor, however, much of their job occurs "in the field." Many people in this position spend a large percent of their work day driving to various provider homes. Licensors may work from one's car or in a coffee shop when not in the field office. Using a provider's kitchen table or the roof of a playhouse as a desk while on a visit is not uncommon.
|Play space at a family home child care setting.|
All DEL licensors are currently equipped with tablets that can connect to the Internet when needed to ensure open and consistent dialogue with supervisors, licensees and colleagues. Tablets are also used so licensors have constant access to WAC documents and guidelines, as well as the electronic forms used for inspections.
"No day is the same because a big part of my job is spent out and about, visiting licensees," said Cindy Anstiss, Tacoma licensor. "We [family home licensors] have between approximately 80 and 120 providers in each of our case load."
Being a licensor means building relationships with child care providers. This allows for a level of trust to develop that both the provider and the licensor have the best interests of children at heart.
In any home visit, Cindy starts by noting the outside of the family home. She raises questions about the general first impressions of the home business. Questions like: Does it have new paint? How are the doors and windows? Is the lawn mowed? (Just to name a few).
DEL licensing visits are generally unannounced so licensors can get a feel for what an average day looks like at a home. Cindy maintains a positive, welcoming attitude and stresses that she wants to simply observe the house, the children's behavior and activities on an average day. The care and needs of the children come first.
|Nap space at family home child care setting.|
The initial part of her time is spent surveying the kitchen, living, play and nap areas--licensed areas of the home. She takes notes on the status of lighting fixtures and bulbs, checks that there are smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, pays attention to the layout of the play areas (both indoor and outdoor) and asks questions like: is there enough space around outdoor play equipment for a "fall zone" and does it have ground cover? Are there locks and alarms on doors? Are wading pools empty when not in use? Questions vary depending on the setting and/or visit.
"It doesn't necessarily worry me to see a little messy play area with toys on the floor," said Cindy. "It usually means the kids are active or busy."
Licensors are required to conduct monitoring visits each year using an in-depth checklist of requirements.
If a licensor finds that certain areas of the checklist are not up to code (according to the WACs), the provider and the licensor develop a compliance agreement with a plan of correction stating that they will fix the issues in a certain amount of time. Providers are required to make the checklists available to parents upon request.
Violations are available for anyone to view online at DEL's Child Care Check. These violations range in severity. A violation could be failure of reporting or record keeping - failure to keep record of a child's vaccination history, or a violation could involve lack of supervision). Parents should take note of violations, but keep an open dialogue with their provider as some citations may not be serious health and safety issues.
After Cindy surveys the active play spaces, kitchen and nap areas, she spends time observing the children while they participate in every-day activities like playing or eating lunch. She also spends time talking with the provider--getting a sense for how the home life is going outside of business hours.
Working with people who own a business in their homes is unique and it can be challenging to regulate. Licensors need to know if changes affect the home or household members. For example, if someone moves in to a provider's home, accurate background checks of the new individual must be obtained and the licensor must be notified.
Licensors take the health and safety of children seriously--and are fast to act if they feel a provider is putting children at risk. Summary suspensions are served to providers who have allegations that pose imminent risk to children.
"Families who choose child care in a home setting usually choose providers with similar ideals," said Cindy. "Children in child care homes have the opportunity to build strong, lasting bonds with their provider."
Cindy's day usually ends after she has surveyed provider's homes thoroughly and come away with next steps to ensure a home is up-to-code and safe for kids.
Homes can be warm, comforting places for children to learn and grow when parents are away. For example, it is common to find pets at family homes--this may be an opportunity for children to bond and learn to interact with animals, if done safely and in accordance with WAC.
Cindy is a good example of a licensor that values providers' time, is open for questions and supports family home providers to ensure they maintain quality care. She provides technical assistance and can act as an important resource for licensees.
If you are looking for child care, don't be afraid to ask questions of potential providers or to visit. All of DEL's WACs and policies and procedures are available online, and their subject matter ranges from safe outdoor play equipment to safe sleeping practices in child care settings. A good place to start learning about licensed child care in WA is here.