Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Center Child Care Licensor

At the beginning of July, DEL featured a blog post entitled “A Day in the Life of a Family Home Child Care Licensor.” The article featured an in-depth description of what a family home licensor encounters on an average day at work.

While family home child care is common throughout the state, there are licensors that specialize in monitoring and working with child care centers as well. The following post was written after spending an afternoon shadowing a DEL licensor while she visited a licensed child care center in Spokane. 
“Centers are another world,” said Helen Cramer, DEL Center Licensor in Spokane. “There are generally more children and more space to regulate, as well as different standards.”
Center classroom coat and book bag area.
The Department of Early Learning (DEL) is responsible for licensing and monitoring child care facilities around the state to ensure providers meet the health and safety requirements necessary for children to receive safe, healthy and quality care while parents are working or away.

DEL's licensing work is guided by 
state lawsstate rules, which are also called WACs (Washington Administrative Codes), and internal DEL policies and procedures

Not unlike family home licensors, center licensors spend a large amount of their time on the road and "in the field."
All DEL licensors (homes and centers) 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. 
“One of the reasons for the tablet is that licensors are now able to provide forms, resources and licensing checklists to providers via email while on the premises,” said Licensing Supervisor, Karen Christensen. “We also use our tablets to bring up the MERIT system, background checks and other sites that are of use to the provider and can be viewed by the provider during the site visit.”
MERIT is a system used by early childhood education professionals and child care providers across the entire state. For more information about MERIT, go here: MERIT.
“The first thing I do is walk through the entire center,” said Cramer. “This allows me to get a general feel for the surroundings—see if anything stands out right off the bat.”
Center sizes vary greatly—this one in particular had around 120 children ranging in ages from infant to school-age. In a center, there is usually a larger staff dedicated to different age groups.

Classroom and play area at Spokane center.
At this center, the rooms were designated by color and age group (e.g. the Teal Room for preschoolers).

The licensor made notes and asked the center director questions about the general first impressions of the center. She paid special attention to each room’s functionality and safety—marking the placement of cleaning products, inquiring about medications for each child, and checking the cleanliness of each space.

Not unlike licensed homes, licensed centers are held to a set of standards and can receive violation notices that need to be addressed by the center administration.
“Child safety is our number one priority,” said Cramer. “We [center licensors] work with administrators to achieve the best possible standard of care for the kids.”
Sample of a Center curriculum posting.
During the bulk of the visit, Cramer surveyed the nap areas, play spaces (this center has its own gym!), and bathrooms. She notes status of fire alarms, placement of epi-pens for children with allergies, pays attention to the layout of the play areas (both indoor and outdoor), and reviews each staff member’s curriculum (which was posted in each room).

All licensors are required to conduct monitoring visits each year using an in-depth checklist of requirements. Center licensors may need to take more than one day to complete a monitoring visit—depending on the size of the center.

If a licensor finds that certain areas of the center 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. 

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.  

Working with large centers is unique and it can be challenging to regulate. There are usually multiple staff files that licensors have to monitor. For example, staff members are required to have current CPR and First Aid training while caring for kids in a center, licensors must take note of this.

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 centers that have allegations that pose imminent risk to children.
“One of the topics I try to bring up with each center I visit lately is Safe Sleep,” said Cramer. “We are rolling out new rules about this and we want to make sure centers are aware of the changes.”
This particular center had a well-established curriculum, caring, motivated staff members, and had the look and organizational feel of a school.
"Families who choose child care in a center setting usually choose programs because they see a close connection between a center and a school-like atmosphere," said Cramer. "There is also the opportunity for diverse interactions with multiple staff members and children of varying ages."
Her day usually ends after she has surveyed the center, spent a lot of time with administration, and reviewed files of all staff thoroughly.

Centers often have a lot of positive resources for children and offer different organized curricula for children of all ages. For example, it is common for centers to offer well-organized and well-chaperoned field trips--this may be an opportunity for children to bond and travel to new and interesting places in the care of qualified staff. 

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.  

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