The current effort by a small group of fundamentalist religious leaders to exempt their child care and nursery programs from all state health and safety regulations is a mistake. If legislation sponsored by Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, should pass, there would be a set of health and safety rules for all non-religious child care programs and none for church-sponsored programs. Such a division would be a prescription for trouble, and a return to the inconsistent child care regulatory situation that existed prior to 1989.
Recognizing that day care programs should be governed by a minimal set of standards, the General Assembly five years ago removed all the previous exemptions for child care programs run by churches and county recreation and parks departments. In drawing up the regulations, the Maryland Child Care Administration consulted extensively with child care sponsors --
private, public and religious -- before developing standards all should follow. The agency also created a letter of compliance for religious day care centers that exempts them from regulations governing staff education, training standards and program content.
The fundamentalist ministers strongly object to the regulations that prohibit the use of corporal punishment. They feel that state bureaucrats are interfering with their right to use a biblically sanctioned form of discipline. Child care administrators are equally adamant about retaining the prohibition because there are other effective methods of discouraging bad behavior.
The proponents of Sen. Haines' bill also object to the requirement that staff members must report suspected child or sexual abuse, even in the face of more frequent cases of abuse in general nowadays. The new regulations only echo existing state law. Staff members of church-run day care centers are now obligated to report any suspected abuse. Creating a loophole would be inexcusable. Child abuse can occur anywhere -- even in religious day care facilities.
To remove hundreds of child care centers from any type of state regulation over the question of corporal punishment is wrong-headed. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure the safety of children. Sacrificing their welfare for a dispute over the proper method of disciplining children is an exercise in twisted logic.