COLORADO SPRINGS — In response to the recent deaths in child care facilities, the Colorado Department of Human Services has launched the Safe Child Care Task Force which will recommend reforms to ensure child care settings are safe, prevent illegal child care, and educate parents and child care providers about licensed and unlicensed care options.
Safe Child Care Task Force is made up of roughly 20 members with representatives from state agencies, the state attorney general’s office, advocacy groups, child care provider groups, and law enforcement.
"The Safe Task Force is in conjunction with Senate Bill 201 to make it more transparent for parents to realize these people are providing illegal care, that they can figure out that they've gotten a cease and desist letter, how many have they gotten. What was the complaint, was there a death in the home, because sometimes they don't come out until there is a death in the home," said Alma Wiley, Licensed Child Care provider and Pikes Peak Family Child Care Association.
She's hoping the task force will be the first step in fixing flaws in the current child care system.
"The cease and desist letter is administered but our state never had follow through. It took going to court, taking it up with the general attorney's office for CDHS to press charges or go further. So if a neighbor or provider reported then they would go out and do the same thing. Monitor for three days, cease and desist, and the cycle kept going and going," said Wiley. "The task force is going to help get that out to the forefront. You're going to be able to find them and say if they've been given a cease and desist letter not once, not twice but three times."
The most recent infant death in Widefield among many that Wiley says are overlooked.
"There's an active investigation going on right now with El Paso County of infant death in the Widefield area. The woman had 22 children and a three-month-old baby boy died," said Wiley. "This task force is going to make it where licensing, department of human services, those entities can move faster. Press charges and get the ball rolling to where they can get them to court and fined."
For the state of Colorado, child care providers do not have to be licensed to operate but can only care for up to four children (not more than two children under the age of 2) for periods of less than 24 hours. But the rules haven't always been followed, resulting in tragedy.
"We'll be looking at standardized operating procedures, we'll be looking at our licensing rules, we'll be looking at the Elle Matthews bill and determining if more enforcement needs to be done in addition to what's outlined there. We'll also be looking at if we need to create an enforcement unit and what the cost of that would be," said Mary Alice Cohen, director of the state’s office of early childhood.
The passage of the Elle Matthews legislation allows the state to publicly post information about child care providers who have been issued cease and desist orders.
"If a parent is looking for child care in their neighborhood, they can look at licensed safe care and find out if a provider that is unlicensed has been issued a cease and desist order," said Cohen.
“Child care providers who are operating illegally and putting children's lives at risk must be stopped,” said CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes. “The Safe Child Care Task Force includes experts from across Colorado, and will shape recommendations that keep children safe and help to prevent tragedies from occurring. Families need to know their children are safe in child care, and this task force will help Colorado meet that need.”
When it comes to finding a quality child care provider, Wiley recommends a number of things.
"If they are a licensed provider, they have to have their license posted and they have to have a report of inspection posted. You can ask them for their license if it's not in a visible spot, you can ask them for their license number so you can search them on the state database coloradoshines.com. Those three things right there will tell you if they're a licensed provider," said Wiley.
She recommends parents trust their gut feeling when it comes to choosing a provider.
"If you're seeing more than six kids. On a regular license, we're allowed six kids plus two so that means six children from 0 to five with no more than under 2 years old. Then two before and after school children. There are licenses that take special training but the normal is six plus two," said Wiley.
Families seeking more information about finding child care can visit coloradoshines.com.