Ministry day cares "opt in" to regulation

Daystar Child Care takes part in the "Paths to Quality" program.

It's lunch time at Daystar Child Care on the east side of Indianapolis. As a registered day care ministry run by Englewood Christian Church, they aren't required to follow all the rules and regulations of a licensed day care center. But they follow as many regulations as possible.

A staff member explained, "Their staff ratio is 4 to 1 and that's what we follow," which is just like a licensed day care center. 

Asked if regulations are a bad thing, Englewood's pastor, Michael Bowling, said, "Oh, no. They're essential. We do this in every aspect of our society."

Daystar is part of a small but growing number of faith-based day cares voluntarily following rules and regulations in a program called "Paths to Quality."  Level 1 means basic health and safety standards are being met, all the way up to Level 4, the highest possible rating, indicating national accreditation has been achieved. Stickers are placed on the front door of the day care showing the level it has achieved.  

'It's absolutely a tool," explained Melanie Brizzi, head of the Child Care Bureau in the state's Family and Social Services Administration. "It's an easy-to-recognize symbol for the quality of care that your receiving from your provider without trying to dig into pages and pages of regulation".

Right now in Indiana, there's a huge difference between church-run day cares and licensed day care centers. The secular centers have to follow hundreds of rules and regulations, but church day care ministries only have to follow only very basic fire and building codes.

The lack of regulation meant parents were never notified when, in 2008, a TV fell at a Greensburg ministry, seriously injuring a three-year-old child.   

"My life is never going to be the same," said Juan Cardenas, whose 22-month-old son drowned at an Indianapolis ministry day care.

The fact that the toddler wasn't being supervised violated no state laws and the state was powerless to act.   

"Children are the most vulnerable segment of our culture," said Pastor Bowling. 

That's why Daystar has met Level 3 standards of Paths to Quality, a clear way to show parents that the health, safety and education of children is a priority.