2013-02-27 / News

Lack of background checks on local day-care providers alarms county planning commissioner


By Michael Buettner

Gulley Gulley The county Planning Commission has a role to play in deciding where in-home day care providers can operate and what kind of space they must offer, but it has no authority to decide who can operate them.

That was the gist of a report the commission received last week from county staff and a state Department of Social Services official on how small, in-home providers of day care for children are regulated in Virginia.

Russ Gulley, the Clover Hill District commissioner who had requested the report, said he found the information “very disturbing.”

Gulley said he had learned in the course of doing his own research that Virginia is one of eight states nationally that have a rating of zero, the lowest possible, from the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

The rating is based on how thoroughly each state checks the background of a child-care provider, employee or household member, according to Karen Cullen, program consultant in the Department of Social Services’ Division of Licensing.

Patton Patton Cullen explained that anyone who wants to provide day care in their home for more than five children (not including any children of their own) must obtain a state license.

Virginia requires applicants to file a disclosure statement “disclosing if they have been convicted of any crime in any state … and whether or not they’ve ever had a founded complaint of child abuse or neglect in Virginia or elsewhere.”

State authorities must perform a name search on the applicant in a database maintained by the State Police that includes the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. In addition, a search of the state Child Protective Services database also must be performed.

What those searches might miss are any convictions outside Virginia or listings on another state’s Sex Offender Registry if an individual has moved to Virginia and failed to register here, Cullen noted.

The main reason the child care association gives Virginia a low rating is that the state doesn’t require an FBI fingerprint search, which would catch those items, Cullen said. “In 2007, the state legislature did pass a law that all providers would have to have fingerprint checks,” she explained.

However, because those checks had to go through the State Police, which charges a steep administrative fee for processing such requests, the bill included a requirement for state funding. The General Assembly failed to provide the funding, and the legislation proposal died, Cullen said.

Gulley noted that even the licensing requirement doesn’t apply to anyone who provides day care for five or fewer children.

“It seems to me that there’s a big hole in the process because they don’t have to fill out that form,” he said. “Nobody’s checking to see if any of these people were guilty of child abuse or [are on] the sex offender list. So all of these people that do not apply for a license fall through the cracks.”

Cullen noted that three Virginia localities – Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax – received special authority from the General Assembly to do their own licensing of day-care providers based on their own more rigorous requirements and covering facilities that care for five or fewer children.

For Chesterfield to get that kind of authority, the General Assembly would have to pass a change in the existing Virginia law to add the county to the list, Cullen said.

Where the Planning Commission does have authority to regulate in-home day care, in addition to zoning and land-use rules, is in such standards as the amount of square footage per child the facility provides, the amount of indoor activity space and the size of outdoor play areas.

Commission members supported a motion to ask Planning Department staff to incorporate those standards into the county’s recommended standard conditions for family day-care homes.

However, they declined to get involved in setting standards for providers or licensing, which could “add a layer of bureaucracy,” as Bermuda District commissioner Dale Patton put it.

Gulley said that wasn’t his intention in requesting the detailed information. “I wasn’t suggesting that the commission overstep their bounds,” he said. “Personally, my takeaway from this is to contact my legislators and put the ball in their court.”

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