Md.'s rules called boon to day care

April 26, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Parents looking for clues about the quality of day care may be confused by recent studies and press reports.

Although the March issue of Working Mother magazine ranked Maryland as one of the top 10 states for day care, a Maryland Committee for Children Inc. study released earlier this month says the state has a shortage of licensed, quality day care.

And the New York-based Families and Work Institute's national study released two weeks ago says most family day care is "barely adequate" -- and nearly a third is of such poor quality it could harm a child's development.

What's going on? Is day care here good, bad or somewhere in between?

"It's like anything else. Parents have to be active consumers," said Remy Whaley, who coordinates day care services for parents and providers in the county.

"I think we have a lot of really good providers. But quality varies from person to person. Parents need to ask a lot of questions to find a good match."

Local day care experts said findings of the Families and Work Institute study do not apply to Maryland and Anne Arundel County. The study said only 9 percent of the homes it studied provided good quality care.

"That finding is not reflective of the care available in Anne Arundel County," said Ms. Whaley. "The number of homes providing good quality care is far greater than 10 percent."

"I'd say it's at least 40 percent," said Eugenie Fitzgerald, a licensing specialist who inspects day care homes in the Glen Burnie area. "We do have a fairly strong training component in our regulations, and studies have shown that makes a big difference."

Ms. Fitzgerald said the percentage of homes in Anne Arundel County providing substandard care is probably very small. But she agreed with the study's findings that a large number provide "custodial care."

Still, she said, Maryland fares better than many other states because it has stringent regulations and promotes training, which results in a better level of care than that portrayed in the Families and Work Institute study.

But regulations don't guarantee success, said Ellen Galinsky, co-president of the institute and project director for the five-year study.

"Even in highly regulated states, there is a lot of room for improvement," she said. "Our strategy is to find ways to lower the number of inadequate settings. With 13 percent of regulated homes providing inadequate care and 50 percent of the

nonregulated homes, clearly more can be done."

Training called the key

Debbie Moore, president of the Anne Arundel County Family Child Care Association, agreed more can be done and said training is key.

"The [state] regulations tend to look at minimal safety standards," she said, adding that most requirements -- such as criminal background checks, medical examinations and fire inspections -- are important but don't speak to quality.

"Just because you're registered, doesn't mean you're good," said Ms. Moore, an attorney who left her practice to take care of her three children and six others. "When a person has had a lot of training, that can really improve the quality.

"I know one provider who wall-papered her bathroom with her training certificates. Every course she took, she put the certificate up. Her kids thought it was pretty funny, but when parents saw it, they were pretty impressed."

In Maryland, a potential provider needs at least three hours of child development and six hours of health and first-aid instruction to get registered. They need another six hours of both every two years to renew their registration. Many take more training than the minimum.

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Marge Deschenes and May Gayleard, two first-time providers, have no doubt the county does a good job regulating new applicants.

On Friday, the two sisters, who intend to run a day care home together in Linthicum, spent three hours with Ms. Fitzgerald, as she checked everything from the temperature of their hot water to the safety of the backyard play area.

Armed with a folder 2 inches thick, Ms. Fitzgerald and the two women studied handouts at the kitchen table covering nutrition, dispensing medication, appropriate toys and activities, hand-washing techniques and common illnesses.

RTC They checked the burners on the stove. They examined the first-aid kit. They looked for safety latches on drawers and cabinets.

'Tougher than I thought'

"It's tougher than I thought it would be," said Ms. Deschenes, who added that she and her sister have been working on becoming registered since October.

"You have to be really committed to do it. We've talked to several people who have given up three or four times because they've gotten frustrated with everything you have to do. Only the most dedicated are going to go through with it. But I guess that's good."

Although regulations and required training can't guarantee quality, they do help weed out uncommitted applicants as well as provide a strong framework for dealing with complaints, said day care administrators.

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