Juneau’s child care providers concerned by proposed licensing changes

Gretchen Boone flips through a picture book for an infant at the Gold Creek Child Development Center in Juneau on May 11, 2018. Boone is the center’s director. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Proposed regulations may make it harder for child care facilities statewide to do business.

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In Juneau, some daycare directors say the new rules would reduce capacity and worsen the shortage of affordable child care.

Gold Creek Child Development Center’s infant room caters to children ranging from six weeks to 18 months. They nap, play and gurgle under the watchful eye of their teachers.

On a recent afternoon, Director Gretchen Boone explained what the impact of one of the proposed regulation changes from the Department of Health & Social Services would be.

“This room, we currently have up to 10 children, and we have three teachers,” Boone said. “This room would be directly affected by the regulations … and if the age ranges and group sizes change, we would have to remove, or not fill, two spaces.”

There are 51 pages of changes being proposed to child care center licensing regulations in Alaska. Some are related to compliance with federal child care standards. Others address the types of foods child care workers can consume on the job.

Gold Creek has 60 children and about 16 staff members. It’s one of Juneau’s largest child care providers. But the demand is way higher, according to Assistant Director Colleen Brody.

“We have, currently, 97 families on our waitlist,” Brody said. “So we have 51 infants and 46 toddlers on our waitlist and that’s a lot of infants and toddlers that don’t have care.”

The proposed change that most concerns Brody and Boone would lower the maximum group size and child-to-teacher ratio allowed for toddlers and infants. Gold Creek would lose two spots in both its infant and young toddler rooms.

Boone and Brody said losing the tuition from those spots would result in a loss of more than $4,000 in revenue per month, which could force them to cut teacher positions.

“Ideally we would try and balance it without cutting anybody but $4,000 is a lot of money,” Brody said.

Samantha Adams recently closed her child care business in Juneau after 12 years due to increasing overhead costs. She said she was losing an average of $30,000 per year.

“I’m of the opinion that regulation and oversight is really crucial to ensuring that those programs are keeping kids safe,” Adams said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s very important to have regulations.”

But Adams feels many of the proposed changes overstep. She knows firsthand the financial challenges of running a daycare.

“If you’re going to implement regulations that limit our ability to make money, absolutely there should be some financial backing for those mandates,” Adams said.

Adams, Boone and Brody recently signed a statement with a group of eight local child care providers concerned by the proposed changes. They worry many of them could result in the closure of more programs.

Adams wants providers to have a seat at the table for these decisions.

“We as stakeholders in the state of Alaska for the child care workforce, we should be at the table when these are being proposed–before they’re ever proposed, before they ever go out to public comment,” Adams said. “I think a lot of us were feeling overlooked because they don’t do that.”

Besides the ratio issues, some providers are concerned about a requirement that center administrators have a certain number of college credits in early childhood education.

Providers must have one designated administrator on site for every 30 children. They already need to meet a number of qualifications to be an administrator, and some providers feel mandating more classes adds to the financial strain workers feel in a field that doesn’t pay much.

The state’s Child Care Program Office did not respond to requests for comment on the proposed changes.

The public comment period for the proposed changes ends May 31. After that, department officials will decide what, if anything, to change.

The Department of Health and Social Services is holding a public hearing on the proposed changes in Anchorage at 1 p.m. Monday.

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