Lawmaker wants faith-based day-care centres regulated

Lawmaker wants faith-based day-care centres regulated April 19, 2016

Aggressive lobbying by Christian organisations in Alabama in the 1980s made it possible for faith-based day-care centres to operate free of regulation – often with disastrous consequences.
One woman determined to end this shocking state of affairs is lawmaker Patricia Todd, above, who is introducing a bill to to abolish the religious exemption.
Todd – a Democrat and Alabama’s first openly gay legislator – said her bill would seek to licence more than 900 religious day-cares in the state that currently operate without a licence and with almost no government control.

We’ve let church day-cares go unregulated for far too long, and a lot of damage has been done.

Melanie Bridgeforth, Executive Director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, an advocacy group that has pushed for increased day care standards, said this will be the first time a lawmaker in Alabama has introduced legislation to abolish the religious exemption.

This is a huge deal. I think that many will try to paint this issue as a faith or religious issue, and it couldn’t be further from that. Any entity that is caring for children should be regulated by the state in some way.

Sixteen American states have carved out exceptions for faith-based day-cares, leading children in several states to be neglected, abused and even killed. Alabama has almost no requirements for religious day-cares, meaning half of the day-care facilities in the state operate with little control and are not required to follow state standards regarding worker training or supervision or adhere to any staff-to-child ratios.

This is of little concern to Robin Mears, Executive Director of the Alabama Christian Education Association, a group that supports the religious exemption. He said regulation is unnecessary at church day-cares because most facilities answer to a higher authority than the state: God.
This absence of regulation enabled Deborah Stokes, inset, to operate a string of “disastrous” Christian day-cares all over southern Alabama for years.
According to this report, she began opening day-cares 14 years ago in Saraland, Alabama. Just weeks into her new venture, authorities discovered she was keeping children in a building that didn’t meet basic health and safety standards. Stokes was arrested for child endangerment, criminally charged, and later convicted. She also was banned from operating a day-care for two years.
But she was soon back at it. She opened a day-care in a decrepit warehouse that one worker described as a “house out of a horror movie”. Another was next to a porn store. Parents and workers have reported Stokes for abuse and neglect – hitting kids with flyswatters, locking them in closets, rapping them with rulers, and failing to pay employees.
Police, county health officials, city council members, building inspectors, former employees and upset parents have tried to take action, but they can’t seem to stop Stokes. When she’s forced to close one of her day-cares, she just opens another in a neighboring town.
In 2006, the Alabama Department of Human Resources didn’t verify the safety requirements of one of her day-cares in Mobile, because they trusted that churches would tell the truth about complying with the law.
Investigators could find no evidence that Stokes’s church – Alpha and Omega Christian Church Ministries – holds services or performs outreach. An investigation also found at least 80 daycare operators who suddenly decided to identify as religious after regulators tried to shut them down.
Currently, Stokes is running a church day-care called Little Nemo’s, next to an auto repair shop. This is at least her 12th operation. All she had to do to open her doors was tell regulators was that her day-care was “an integral part” of her church.
Freedom from regulation has not stopped religious day cares from collecting millions of dollars in federal funding. From 2011 to 2014, unlicenced church day- cares in Alabama have amassed more than $123 million through the federal child care subsidy programme without having to follow any rules to receive those dollars.

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  • Angela_K

    “….they trusted that churches would tell the truth about complying with the law”. And therein lies the problem, giving religion and easy time because the religious say they answer to and fear their god, but the huge majority of those imprisoned for crimes are religious.

  • Lucy1

    And why do parents leave their children in these ghastly places? Rhetorical question. Good childcare is probably too expensive or full.

  • L.Long

    NO CHURCH or religion should have a free pass on anything!!! Religion has proved its innate evil, time and again!!! If a secular agency cannot be trusted, a religious one DEFINITELY can’t be trusted!!!

  • Laura Roberts

    “He said regulation is unnecessary at church day-cares because most facilities answer to a higher authority than the state: God.”
    So… then he should be thrilled, right? Because they’d pass with flying colors, right? Gives them an opportunity to show how amazing they are, right?

  • Cali Ron

    Christians abusing children, not a surprise. A gay legislator in Alabama? Now that’s surprising. She must be brave to be openly gay and politically active there.
    I wonder how many day care centers their “god” has inspected, fined and closed down? None of course. How ignorant is Robin Mears to trust people with children simply because they say they are religious. Newsflash! Christians lie, cheat, steal, abuse, rape and murder just like non christians. No wait, actually they do all those things more than atheists. “Religion poisons everything”.

  • Vanity Unfair

    If memory serves, church activities in most, if not all, of the USA are tax-free too. Should this ever go to court, how about citing the state Governor as a co-defendant?
    Nemo is, of course, Latin for “nobody”; a reflection of the value placed on the children.

  • jay

    The church-specific exemption is a serious problem. But on the other hand, at least in this part of the country, daycare is extremely over regulated.
    When I was young, it was very common to see notices up on the boards: “mother will watch children in my home”. It was simple an inexpensive–with benefits for the working women as well as the mother who stayed home. Now there are so many regulations, licenses, education degrees and government certifications, that casual daycare has been fully legislated out of existence. And the cost to care for a child for a day often exceeds the day’s income for a modest wage woman.
    Hence, one more kind of government dependency is created, where a woman has to apply for taxpayer funded child care allowance just to survive.
    Parents have a responsibility to monitor who is caring for their children, and are better qualified than the state.

  • Robster

    One day some good news may emerge about the “good” work done by religious organisations but given the cacophony of really, really bad news about everything they touch, that is unlikely.

  • Maggie

    In some (too many) US states , religion is more important than the lives of children. I hate the saying and it is used in wildly incorrect situations but… won’t anyone think of the children?