Jennifer Rensenbrink, Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
To learn more about the new Kansas website about child care providers, go to www.startribune.com/a1333.
Editorial: Minnesota slow to share key day-care data
- June 3, 2012 - 5:40 PM
Even the most conscientious parents could be lulled into a false sense of security after searching a state-run database of child-care licensing information.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) does have an easy-to-use website available for parents doing background checks on prospective home day-care providers. The trouble is that the information provided there is too often incomplete, according to a disturbing recent story by Star Tribune writers Brad Schrade, Jeremy Olson and Glenn Howatt.
Typing in a location or a provider's name yields basic information about their child-care license -- such as how many kids the provider can care for -- but the website is hit-or-miss when it come to comprehensive safety and inspection information. Parents who don't read the jargon-filled, fine-print disclaimers may not realize that there's a risk the information is insufficient.
"Since 2002, the state has issued more than 700 licensing actions against in-home child-care providers still operating today,'' the reporters wrote. "Yet only one-third of those violations are posted on the state's website, apparently because the others occurred before the online tool was created.''
Lower-level safety and inspection violations and other information generated more recently by county-level officials may also be missing. These reports are often still done on paper and may not be electronically formatted so that the information is easily uploaded to the state-run website.
While parents can often still get this data by calling their county, those who do take this extra step may run up against another hurdle: Counties can interpret state data laws differently and can decide not to make the information accessible.
Change is clearly needed. Parents vetting in-home child-care providers need all the information they can get to make one of the most important decisions in their lives: to whom to entrust their child's care. While the state's website (www.startribune.com/a1263) isn't the only resource parents should consult, it nonetheless is an important tool.
While DHS officials are working hard to improve the site, the reality is that they can't do it alone. States with pioneering child-care websites are those in which lawmakers have made resources available for critical improvements.
Kansas is one of these states. In 2010, the state legislature passed "Lexie's Law,'' which significantly strengthened day-care regulation and mandated a new website with detailed provider licensing information.
Lawmakers pushed to secure federal funding to automate the day-care inspection process and get information flowing to the site. Inspectors are now armed with tablet computers and mobile wi-fi. Reports once filed on paper are now submitted to the licensing agency electronically.
The first phase of the new Kansas web site went online in March. The level of detail for individual providers -- a sample search kicked up a provider with food-handling violations -- is impressive. Rachel Berroth, director of Kansas's child-care licensing program, said this week that even more information will go online as improvements roll out.
In Minnesota, legislators also need to update Minnesota data laws. Language covering the release of day-care provider information is murky. What is private and public needs to be clearer.
The Star Tribune story highlighted an important need for reform -- one that would improve the lives of children across the state. Lawmakers should champion this family-friendly initiative and make it a priority next session.
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