Unfortunately, given the paltry state of U.S. child care regulations, Haley’s traumatic experience is likely not unique. Although 11 million American children under the age of five use child care services for an average of 35 hours per week, most facilities that provide those services employ substandard practices that flout health and safety concerns.
In May, the Obama administration issued strict new rules in response to that status quo — the first reforms to the industry in 15 years — for facilities that get federal funding or care for low-income Americans with federal child care subsidies. But that only affects about 513,000 centers. States have wide discretion in setting child care program requirements for thousands of other facilities, including many smaller, in-home outfits — and the evidence shows that almost no states do a competent job of regulating and overseeing these facilities.
According to the most recent study by the children’s safety advocacy group Child Care Aware, all 50 states averaged a “D” on their child care centers’ health and safety requirements, and only one provider — the Department of Defense — received the highest recorded score of “B” (no state received an “A”). Haley’s home state of South Carolina is in the bottom ten on the list due to its weak program requirements, which allows for corporal punishment at child care centers and places no caps on staff to child ratios at the facilities.
Other states have even more glaring shortfalls, especially when it comes to regulating smaller family home facilities used by Americans that don’t have access to a bigger center. Eight states, including Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, and Louisiana, don’t require any state-sanctioned licensing for family homes that take care of children. Michigan, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Texas are among the states that issue licenses to these smaller facilities without conducting an inspection. And only 18 states require checking the sex offender registry for staff that interact with kids.
These oversight gaps have facilitated countless stories of children suffering from negligence and abuse at the hands of their caretakers. Some of those incidents end with a child’s death; others leave them with physical and psychological scars.
Haley’s recent meeting on child abuse focused on better training for child protection workers and education campaigns about abuse — but lawmakers can also bolster child safety by instituting stricter licensing requirements, holding higher standards for those who work with children, and following through on other safety recommendations from advocacy groups.