Alaska Department of Health moves to ease parts of child care licensing burden

a playground
A children’s playground sits empty in Anchorage. (Photo by Sophia Carlisle/Alaska Beacon)

The state government is taking aim at eliminating one of the most common barriers for people who want to open child care centers in remote communities: The state requirement for a special internet connection called a “static IP address.”

Every device connected to has its own Internet Protocol, or IP, address. While most device addresses can change, static IP addresses don’t. They can be costly and hard to get in remote parts of Alaska where internet access is a known challenge.

Would-be child care providers in remote parts of Alaska have said they can’t get licensed because the state’s requirements are logistically difficult or prohibitively costly where they live.

The result is that there’s little or no child care in most parts of the state, according to a 2021 study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. That keeps parents out of the workforce and disadvantages remote communities and their predominantly Alaska Native populations.

To get certified to open a child care center with the state, applicants must use a static IP address. It’s a safety measure that’s a requirement as a result of the 2021 cyberattack on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Now the state is working on a solution so that the static IP address will no longer be necessary for a child care provider background check, said Leah Van Kirk, a health care policy advisor for the state’s health department in a state child care task force meeting Wednesday.

“We’ve definitely heard that concern because it’s an additional cost to the provider through their telecom agency,” she said. “Our IT network staff are developing a portal that child care providers will be able to access without having to go through that static IP address.”

She said the portal should be available to providers in about six months.

Stephanie Berglund, executive director of thread, a resource and referral network for child care in the state, said she was excited to hear that news.

“That is the biggest barrier that we hear about at thread, so I’m really happy to see action and steps forward with that,” she said.

Rep. Julie Coulombe, R-Anchorage, said six months felt like a long time to wait. “Is that a funding issue? Is that a human resources issue?” she asked. “Is there anything on the Legislature end that we could do to speed that up?”

Department of Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg said funding was not a factor in speed and that she had moved the portal work to a high priority list of tasks for state workers and contractors to complete.

The task force members were also interested in easing the fingerprint requirements for child care providers. Currently, fingerprint cards must be mailed to the state for background checks. Several task force members expressed hope that work could be done digitally.

“I think that’s going to be a takeaway to go back to the IT staff,” Hedberg said. State departments do not currently accept fingerprint scans from third parties, like private child care providers — though they do use them internally — for security reasons.

Hedberg said she would ask IT if the same portal that could spare providers the need for a static IP address could be used to allow providers to send scanned fingerprints to the state.

“We know there are challenges in access,” she said, and added that there’s more work to do in coordinating between state agencies.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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