To regulate or not to regulate, this should NOT be the question.
As if the tax breaks, exemptions, special treatment and hypocrisy of the church and government relationship were not enough, now we return to address the safety and welfare of our children.
Currently, Indiana law (and the law in many other states) permits religious nonprofits to simply register their daycares, and not actually license them, thus avoiding most state oversight. Most faith-based daycares obviously choose that route, fearing more government regulation would be arduous and could restrict religious expression — we should be so lucky.
There have been several attempts to abolish this licensing disparity in the legislature, but as you can imagine, the threat of government intrusion on religion has aided its survival. This certainly isn’t new “news,” but the battle ensues.
In Indiana, the number of faith-based daycare centers has skyrocketed in recent years, and they now outnumber licensed daycares — both religious and nonreligious. There are 730 unlicensed faith-based daycare centers in Indiana, compared with 601 licensed day cares.
The difference in health and safety standards between licensed centers and unlicensed faith-based daycares is immense — with the former abiding by 192 rules while the latter abides by only 21. The biggest difference, and perhaps the one that raises the most concern, is in the number of adults who must be present at daycares. For licensed centers, it’s one adult for every four infants and every five toddlers.
There is no ratio requirement for unlicensed centers.
Children’s advocates have urged the legislature to make changes, claiming that such lack of regulation could lead to danger for children. Sadly, it already has.
“A lot of these places are not even passing the sniff test,” said Ted Maple, director of the Success By 6 program at the United Way of Central Indiana, which helps unlicensed faith-based day cares strengthen their safety standards. “We’ve seen some places in such disrepair they have no business being in business. We have two sets of rules here, and this is our children we’re talking about.”
Not surprisingly, many religious organizations and conservative groups strongly oppose legislature that would mandate ALL childcare facilities to be licensed, citing that it would impose on their religious freedoms and “once a child care is licensed by the state, the government can control what goes on inside the walls, including at Sunday school.”
“We follow a lot of rules already, so the question would be, ‘How much more do they want?’ ” said Stephanie Dill, director of Crosstown Daycare, a faith-based center in Greenfield.
What more do we want?! Oh, I don’t know, perhaps just peace of mind that children are healthy and safe, there’s some accountability for the day-to-day operations of childcare facilities, and maybe, just maybe, the elimination of special treatment for religious “rights”?
The irony is that there are some faith-based facilities that have chosen to become licensed. They currently receive federal funding (not sure how I feel about that one) and have to meet many health and safety and employment regulations… and, lo and behold, the government has not once interfered with their teachings.
“That’s a common misconception and a false argument,” Maple said. “The state is not interested in telling you how to conduct business. There are a lot of falsehoods out there.”
This appears to be the case…
“I’ve never once in 10 years had anyone from the state come in here and tell us what we can teach,” said Dan Cramer, director of Westside Christian Preschool/Child Care. “If they did, I wouldn’t take their money.”
At St. Mary’s Child Center… executive director Connie Sherman said it switched from registered ministry to licensed day care “because we made a decision to be the best.” Ninety-five percent of the children at St. Mary’s live in poverty, and the parents are charged $5 a week. Sherman said the center made a commitment that the children “shouldn’t be cheated on quality because they are poor.”
There are also various facilities that are not becoming licensed, per se, but are choosing to follow many of the health and safety standards that formal licensing would compel — Better than nothing.
I’m not a fan of religious instruction occurring to children period, but I consider physical health and safety a top priority. I also believe that when it comes to the welfare of children, there should be NO exceptions to safety requirements and standards, religious rights or not. As indicated, the government is not likely to meddle with the ‘teachings’ of faith-based childcare facilities (whether they should or not is an entirely different conversation), so let’s regulate them and force licensing because those little kids need protection from the perceived ‘religious rights’ of the adults around them!
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