An ongoing Star Tribune series has focused on safety issues in licensed in-home day care facilities, but documents in one case released today reflect another safety issue under the surface -- the presence of unlicensed home day care providers in the state.
So the story goes, an inspector in Clay County showed up at the Barnesville, Minn., home of Jolynn Jegtvig in June 2011 and found her providing unlicensed child care to multiple children. After being told to stop, Jegtvig was again found two weeks later providing child care for 13 children -- a large number that would be illegal even for a licensed provider. When Jegtvig then applied for a license, regulators found two criminal incidents in her history that disqualified her from being a state-licensed provider. And when they returned to her home this January, they still found her providing unlicensed child care. After a series of appeals, the state finally denied Jegtvig's application for licensure this month.
Exactly how many providers operate illegal, unlicensed day-care centers out of their homes is unclear. Minnesota has fairly generous policies, compared to other states, for allowing informal child care in homes by relatives or neighbors or friends. Someone in Minnesota can care for an unlimited number of children without a license if they belong to their own family and to no more than one unrelated family.
Survey results from Wilder Research show that 13 percent of Minnesota families use licensed family child care as their primary child care arrangement; and 43 percent rely on the care of a relative, friend or neighbor. There was no category in the survey for illegal, unlicensed care.
Richard Chase, the Wilder researcher who authored the survey report, said there aren't any estimates of the amount of illegal care provided in the state. "There's a lot of informal care, but there's no way of knowing when that informal care crosses a line and becomes 'quote-unquote' illegal. It's kind of hard to pin that down."
Minnesota has fairly lean educational and safety requirements for licensure. But at least when a home is licensed, parents know that the provider has completed training in CPR and that the home upon an initial inspection has been deemed safe for children and free from fire hazards. Chase said he doesn't think there are a lot of unlicensed providers, because parents wouldn't willingly place their children with them.
"If it's happening," he said, "it's out of desperation."
Some providers may not even know they have crossed the threshold requiring a child care license when they agree informally to take in more children in their homes. This may especially happen in the summer during school breaks. Others might have criminal histories that they know would disqualify them from being licensed.
The Star Tribune's series has primarily examined why 82 of 85 deaths in licensed care since 2002 have taken place in the state's 11,000 home-based child care facilities rather than institutional centers. The newspaper's record review has found at least two deaths that occurred in unlicensed care as well. The absence of inspections and oversight of unlicensed home day cares makes it difficult to know if there are more.