AUGUSTA — As the director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, I appreciate the public’s concern and interest in ensuring that licensed child care providers in Maine offer a safe environment and quality child care. Parents, of course, must be diligent about monitoring the care provided to their children, but effective licensing enforcement can provide parents and guardians a certain level of confidence with regard to selection of a child care provider. A license to provide child care is a privilege, and it is our responsibility to make certain that licensed providers adhere to the quality standards that form the basis of the laws and regulations governing child care operations.

A recent situation involving Sunshine Childcare in Lyman created an opportunity for the DLRS to look very carefully at systems, policies and procedures in order to determine how it is that a licensed provider could have violated the law and the trust of parents without incurring appropriate licensure enforcement action. Following an internal review, we have identified that both system and human error were involved. The next step is to implement initiatives to prevent this from occurring in the future.

Now, when conducting investigations of abuse and neglect, the DLRS informs parents and guardians about the complaint alleging abuse or neglect and what they can expect during and after the investigation. We will also provide information following the investigation to let parents know whether or not we identified evidence supporting the allegations.

In addition, the DLRS is developing a Web portal for use by parents and guardians to research licensed providers. The portal will provide information regarding the provider’s licensure status and a history of any licensing actions, including access to statements of deficiencies and plans of correction related to each licensing action. The site will take some time to develop, but it is our hope to have it on line early next year.

Deficient practices by licensed providers will now be reviewed by a child care licensing advisory panel to determine whether licensing action is appropriate. If so, the panel will advise the recommended action, including license revocation when appropriate. The panel will include relevant licensing personnel, investigators, DLRS management, as well as representation from the Office of the Attorney General.

In an effort to keep parents and guardians aware of deficient practices, conditional licenses must be posted in plain sight at the child care location for all parents to view. Conditional licenses are followed up within 30 days to confirm implementation of an effective plan of correction and subsequent unannounced visits occur as warranted by the facts leading to conditional licensure.

Another recent development is the identification of resources in the Federal Child Care Development Fund Block Grant to add 16 positions in the Children’s Licensing and Investigation Unit. This will effectively reduce caseloads from an average of 180 to 80, which aligns with national standards. This will also allow the DLRS to convert its practice of surveying licensed providers once per year to a method called differential monitoring. This process guides the use of resources by determining the frequency and/or depth of monitoring based on an assessment of the provider’s level of compliance with regulations..

It will also be important for Maine to focus efforts on reducing the number of unlicensed child care providers. In Maine, a license is required when providing child care for more than two children.

Unfortunately, the DLRS believes that many child care providers are unwittingly running afoul of the law.

We are evaluating an educational program for unlicensed child care providers that will offer an amnesty period to take the steps necessary to become licensed without fear of reprisal. The campaign will also educate parents on the process for reporting child care providers who fail to take advantage of the amnesty period.

Space limits the ability for me to share all of the improvements being implemented to enhance children’s licensing and investigation services at the DLRS. We are committed to creating and sustaining a culture that values and supports continuous quality improvement that is guided and informed by the values of integrity, openness, quality, safety, trust and validation.

Our mission is to hold licensed providers – and ourselves – accountable. To do so, we must ensure the consistent application of laws and rules for all providers. There is a distinct value for parents to select a licensed child care provider and that value must be honored by effective regulatory oversight.

— Special to the Press Herald