ST. LOUIS — Missouri has proposed changes to its nearly 20-year-old licensing requirements for day care centers, including updated safety regulations covering everything from safe sleep practices to sun exposure.
The Missouri Department of Social Services' 165-page document would govern the operations of about 2,300 state-licensed child care centers. The proposed standards must still get the approval of a legislative committee.
The proposals include more training for workers in early childhood development and more stringent background checks. Centers also would have to comply with updated safety regulations and a new rule requiring head counts and increased staff on field trips.
Many early childhood education advocates have argued that Missouri's rules are outdated and put young children at risk.
"There were several of us who wished we could have pushed it a little further," Carol Scott, executive director of Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral Network, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But some small-business owners are opposed.
"We're for quality service, but when they are talking about going up on child care worker ratios, we don't have funds for that," said Johnnie Brown, a child care center operator in suburban St. Louis and the board president of Missouri Child Care and Education Association, which represents small, independent child care providers.
Brown said the changes would be too expensive and would drive many out of business — or underground, out of the sight of regulators. She said most would likely stop doing field trips.
But Kathy Quick, director of child care regulation for the state, said the changes are necessary and fiscally reasonable.
"At some point we have to say the safety of the children takes precedence over the fiscal cost," she said.
Missouri ranked 44th nationally for its child care safety and performance standards, according to a recent report by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
The report cited weaknesses in required staff training hours, education levels of workers and background check procedures.
The proposed Missouri changes would correct many of the substandard areas, said Corinne Patton, a consultant with the National Association of Regulatory Administration, who was hired by the state to help with the revision process.
The changes would include:
— Increasing the amount of early childhood development training for new child care workers from 12 to 15 hours and requiring those hours within the first six months of employment.
— Capping the size of a preschool class at 20 and requiring centers that exceed that limit to reduce child-worker ratios.
— Requiring centers with employees who are not Missouri residents to obtain a background check from their state of residence as well as a check with the FBI National/State Sex Offender Registry.
— Requiring staff members certified in CPR to be present at a center during operating hours.
— Requiring directors to take three additional course hours of college business or management courses.
— Requiring infants to be placed on their backs at nap time to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Missouri has a separate set of rules for in-home day cares that are not under review, and the state allows churches to operate license-exempt child care centers that are not subject to regulatory inspections and most state rules.