The concerns kept coming as Julie Seydel flipped through the 97-page draft of proposed rules for family child-care providers.

Potential water, radon and soil testing requirements.

A lengthy list of must-have toys and a detailed cleaning schedule.

Many prohibitions: no pet hair. No air fresheners. No music or white noise machines if she isn't directly supervising a sleeping baby.

"We're going to spend so much money now and time doing things that are demanded of us," said Seydel, an Andover resident who has been in the field for 22 years and is public policy director of the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals. "They are unrealistic. And is that going to make the kid healthier and safer than what we currently have in statute? No."

Child-care providers who run small businesses out of their homes are outraged over the "administrative overload" and potential costs they say would result from the state's proposed licensing standard overhaul. They fear the changes, if enacted, could prompt many family child-care providers to close.

Their warning comes as families are struggling to find available, affordable child care and as the number of in-home child-care facilities across the stateand nationwide — continues to decline. Minnesota has about half as many licensed in-home providers as it did 15 years ago, while the number of larger centers has increased.

Child care is a "critical industry," said Kulani Moti, the Department of Human Services inspector general who oversees licensing. As the agency creates new standards, she said it is trying to find "that balance of regulatory obligations or responsibilities with protecting the health and safety of children, and impact on providers."

Providers try to halt or slow overhaul

State lawmakers, along with a Family Child Care Task Force that involved providers, prompted the DHS in 2021 to start the "modernization" of its child-care regulations.

The agency is holding listening sessions and surveying people over the next month. Moti said regulators have heard the draft standards need to change, but how much they will be altered remains to be seen.

They plan to publish a revised version of the rules in the fall, she said, and will give that to lawmakers to act on in the upcoming legislative session. If people spot something "really problematic" in the next version, she said state officials will take that into consideration and the proposed standards could be amended during the legislative process.

Several providers said Minnesota needs to slow down. Legislative action should be delayed until 2026 as the state spends more time hearing from workers and families, said longtime family child-care provider Joyce Berglund, who recently drove from her Cloquet home to Grand Rapids to attend a listening session on the changes.

"This is going to change the whole landscape," Berglund said. "You need to have all the players on board."

Legislators have made a number of child-care changes through state law over the years, including bolstering regulations after a 2012 Star Tribune investigation examined safety breakdowns in day cares and found that nearly one child was dying per month in licensed care.

However, the DHS licensing standards haven't been updated since the 1980s.

Providers had said the existing regulations are difficult to follow and this update is supposed to make the rules more straightforward, said Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, who is talking with DHS staff and child-care providers about the draft regulations this week. She wants to pass updated rules in the 2025 session, but it's critical that providers support the proposal.

"My goal for this is definitely that we want to retain providers in the field and we want to attract new people to the field," Wiklund said.

DHS contracted with the National Association for Regulatory Administration, a nonprofit professional association, to come up with the draft regulations. The agency drew on what other states are doing and input from Minnesota stakeholders, Moti said. Along with those standards, she noted that regulators are working on other changes, like allowing providers with a history of compliance a shorter inspection process.

Still, when the state posted the 97 pages this spring there was "a lot of panic," said Lisa Thompson, Minnesota's ombudsperson for family child-care providers.

Some day-care providers quickly took to social media to decry the draft, posting TikTok videos that got tens of thousands of likes. And more than 2,500 people have signed a petition by Lead & Care, an advocacy group supporting licensed family child-care providers, said Cyndi Cunningham, a provider and member of the organization. It calls for DHS officials to halt and restart the licensing modernization process.

Thompson said her office has only been around for a couple of years, but she has heard far more about this than any other issue. She estimated 50 people have called or written to her with detailed examples of why the standards aren't workable.

"We can't bubble wrap our children," Thompson said. "And this is what this proposal really attempts to do."

Different response from big centers

The state is updating its standards for big child-care centers as well as those in family homes.

Centers have had a far quieter response to the potential changes, said Clare Sanford, who works for New Horizon Academy and is government relations chair for the Minnesota Child Care Association. She said people are happy to see more clarity on staff education and equipment requirements, and the biggest upgrade is detailed guidance on how to respond to child behavior.

"It's so different now than it was 40 years ago, last time these standards were put in place," Sanford said. "A lot of thinking has evolved on how to teach children social-emotional skills. ... Discipline is supposed to be about teaching children, not punishing children."

State staff handle licensing for child-care centers and, compared to other states, Sanford said the relationship here is "a partnership. We're all here to maintain health and safety and help increase quality."

Meanwhile, counties handle inspections for family facilities and providers have long been frustrated by inconsistencies and a feeling that some licensors have a "gotcha" approach, she said. Sanford said a history of "a lot of distrust" shapes in-home providers' response to the draft standards.

Hollee Saville, who runs Happee Hollee's Preschool out of her St. Michael home, created a 22-page list of her biggest concerns with the proposed standards. She called the draft "a dirty diaper" she wants thrown out.

"It seems like it's a purposeful and systematic attempt to push children out of loving family child-care homes and into more institutionalized programs," Saville said, adding that the rules would "take the 'home' out of family child-care homes."