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Publicly Funded Child Care Gets New Health, Safety Guidelines

Child-care programs that receive public money will have to meet stronger safety and quality standards, under new rules for the Child Care and Development Block Grant released Friday. 

The block grant, which was renewed in 2014, creates a federal and state fund that helps pay for child care for low-income families. To use the money, parents must be working or attending a job training program. The law was last renewed in 1996, and federal officials said that new safety and care regulations were needed based on up-to-date knowledge about child development.

About 1.4 million children under the age of 13 are in child care that is paid for through the block grant program, though combined federal and state spending of about nearly $9 billion a year. (Head Start, a different federal program, also spends close to $9 billion on services for about 1 million children and pregnant women.) The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the changes in the new rules: 

  • Child care providers are subject to annual, unannounced inspections, the results of which must be made public.
  • All child care providers (including other adults in the home, if the child care is provided in a home setting) must undergo a comprehensive background check. 
  • The state agencies that oversee the programs must establish standards and training in health and safety topics, such as first aid, CPR, and safe-sleeping practices. 
  • States must create "consumer-friendly" websites on choosing care providers.

Children will also be eligible for assistance for a minimum 12 months, as long as a family is earning 85 percent of a state's median income or below and regardless of temporary changes in work or education. Some states would require families to prove their eligibility every few months, prompting program "churn" based on temporary changes. The new rule allows children to have some continuity of care, the federal rule states.

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