Indiana lawmakers seek to raise child care standards

Published: .
Updated: .

A legislative committee is recommending using financial incentives to encourage child care facilities to meet minimum standards and to encourage parents to send their children to accredited facilities.

There has been an ongoing debate on whether child care facilities associated with ministries should have to meet the same standards as licensed providers. In the past, attempts to raise standards for ministry-affiliated facilities have failed, primarily because of concerns it could blur the line between separation of church and state.

But Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle, chairman of the interim Committee on Child Care, is recommending new laws that would focus on requiring facilities that receive federal money to meet the same standards. He's also proposing giving tax credits to parents who put their children in high-quality facilities.

The debate was renewed in February when a one-year-old boy drowned in a baptismal pool after wandering away from an Indianapolis church day care. Inspectors found 18 health and safety violations in an inspection of the day care three months before the child's death. Several employees were missing criminal history checks. Also, there was no documentation of checking for child abuse or neglect for employees.

All day care centers are inspected by the state, but the majority of day care ministries fall under different guidelines than non-religious centers. State inspectors only have the authority to enforce basic health, safety and sanitation regulations.

If the church's day care facility had been licensed, the state pointed out they would not have been allowed to have a two-foot deep pool in the building in an unlocked room.

Licensed day cares must also follow staff-to-student ratios and keep children within sight and sound at all times. Church-run day cares are exempt from those rules, as well, and have been an issue at the Statehouse for decades.