Opinion Columns & Blogs

State needs to inspect all child care facilities

I could choose to have lunch in any restaurant today and know that it gets inspected for safety and cleanliness. I could get my hair cut in any barber shop with the knowledge that it receives regular inspections from the state. But if I were choosing a child care facility for my children today, it might not have ever been inspected.

That's because 1 in 3 child care facilities in Kansas are never inspected unless it's too late — when a child has died in care or a complaint has been filed. Working families in Wichita are among those who have paid the ultimate price. In the past three years, one-third of the child care deaths in the state have happened in Sedgwick County.

Many such deaths could be prevented by taking a few precautions that would bring our child care system up to par. Right now, Kansas ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to child care oversight. What this really means is that most states have an adequate set of checks and balances in their child care systems, which working parents rely upon to help them choose the right kind of child care for their family. But that same set of checks and balances is lacking in Kansas.

In our state, anyone can pay $5 and complete a minimal amount of paperwork to become a "registered" child care provider. The name "registered" implies to families that some level of qualifications and safety standards has been met. But that's not the case.

The good news is we already have a system in place that inspects most Kansas child care facilities. We simply need to strengthen that system.

Inspecting all child care facilities — including "registered" providers — would be the first step. With across-the-board inspections, we can minimize the risk for thousands of Kansas children and give families some peace of mind that their children are being cared for in a safe environment.

Inspections like these are not a new concept. As a state, we've put a lot of consumer protections, such as inspections, into place. Just as we inspect every restaurant and every barbershop in the state, we should inspect every child care facility — the very places we entrust the care of our children during the workday.

In today's economy, it's particularly important that we look for ways to keep Kansans in the work force and earning a paycheck. We know that finding safe child care is one of the biggest obstacles for parents who want to remain in the work force. By inspecting all child care facilities, we will make it easier for parents to find and keep child care they can trust.

It's not often we have the opportunity to do "something for nothing." But the child care inspection bill on the table this legislative session offers just that: a chance to save lives and strengthen our child care system without costing Kansas taxpayers any additional dollars. It's time to inspect the rest. We owe it to our children and to our work force.