Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

OP-ED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 6, 2009
Contact: Dave Nelson (512) 463-0112

DEFINING DAY CARE IS IMPORTANT FOR TEXAS CHILDREN

There is no animal in nature more fierce than a mother protecting her young. So no one should be surprised that parents are on guard when they entrust their children to the care of others.

Will they be treated well? Is this a healthy environment? Are they going to be safe? These questions run through the minds of every parent when dropping their child off for daycare. Not only do parents expect these questions to be answered affirmatively by the daycare provider, they expect the state license posted in the facility to indicate strong oversight and accountability.

However, not all child care is subject to state licensure – for good reason. If a teenager from the neighborhood babysits for an evening, she shouldn't have to obtain a license. When children go to Sunday school or outdoor soccer practice, the state doesn't need to interfere.

But where do we draw the line? That is the question we are attempting to answer with SB 68, which I authored to clearly delineate the types of programs that should, and should not, be required to obtain a license to provide daycare services.

Last year, the Attorney General ruled that the Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) may not grant license exemptions without explicit authorization from the Legislature. As a result, exemptions for sporting clubs, after-school programs and other neighborhood services were declared null and void. If SB 68 does not pass, these recreational activities will be subjected to state regulation.

Our legislation will reinstate those exemptions for activities that are truly recreational in nature. It will protect programs offered by the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as martial arts, gymnastics and other recreational activities under 10 hours a week, excluding weekends.

At the same time, SB 68 will strengthen oversight of licensed daycare operations and close gaps in the law that have allowed some daycares to operate without a license. It also provides a stronger set of tools for DFPS to deal with those operators who jeopardize the health and safety of children, increasing the "time out" period for license revocation from 2 to 4 years.

Even the strongest laws, however, will not protect children unless the agency strictly enforces the law. Last year, 35 children died in Texas daycares. I was deeply saddened to learn that a 4-month old girl died last month in a Denton residential daycare. The medical examiner is investigating, and DFPS has revoked the license due to several licensing violations, including the operator caring for as many as 35 children at a time -- far exceeding the state limit of 12 children for home-based daycare.

When parents see a state license posted by a daycare provider, they expect that to mean that the state is providing strong oversight. While we cannot prevent every tragedy, we must continue our efforts to protect our most precious resource – our children.

SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.

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