- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — Parents and day-care providers say a state council’s proposal to increase square footage in licensed child-care centers would lead to higher fees and fewer available spaces for children.

“I have parents stopping in the office daily asking what’s happening with the licensing,” said Clark Andrs, director of River’s Bend Children’s Center in Chester. “Most of the parents have told me if this happens, they can’t afford it. They will probably stop working and stay home with the kids.”

Mr. Andrs, who built his center four years ago, charges $129 per week per child for children ages 2 to 12. He says the rate would go to $213 per week if he were forced to remove some children.

The proposal by the Virginia Child Day-Care Council calls for increasing the amount of space in child-care centers from 25 square feet per child to 35 square feet.

Day-care providers say that if the 2,587 licensed centers in the state are required to increase the square footage and are unable to afford renovations or new construction, they would have to remove about 52,000 children. Those who remain would face higher rates, they said.

Council members and other state officials say that if the regulation is approved in the current form, the effects will not be so drastic. Centers would have up to two years before the square footage increases to 30 feet per child and up to five years before the requirement is 35 feet.

“Forty-two other states already have this requirement,” said state Social Services Commissioner Maurice Jones, who supports the efforts of the council. “If 42 other states can afford to do it right now, how is it that Virginia, the 13th-most prosperous state in the union, can’t afford to do it five years from now?”

The council reviewed recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association to make the revisions, he said.

Gail Johnson, chairman of the council, said comments from parents and day-care providers may lead to changes in the wording of the regulation.

But she said the proposal and others are designed to ensure that teachers are prepared to handle children’s developmental issues and to foster more intimacy.

“From a parent’s perspective, if it’s designed to increase a relationship between a teacher and their child, it seems I would want it,” she said.

Child-care providers and parents statewide have filled public hearings to let members of the council know that they are unhappy with the square-footage proposal.

Joe and Joly Marshall, who pay $12,000 a year for licensed child care, say they were stunned when word began circulating at the Bundle of Joy center in Hanover County that the state was considering a regulation that could lead to increased fees.

“I was completely caught off guard,” said Mrs. Marshall, a medical secretary at Neurological Associates in Henrico County, whose daughters are 5 and 2.

The following are among the other proposed regulations:

• Limiting group sizes in a room to no more than two groups of children when there is one teacher to eight children. Currently, there is no group-size regulation for day-care centers.

• Reducing the teacher-to-child ratio for 2-year-olds from 1-to-10 to 1-to-8.

• Increasing teacher-training requirements from eight hours a month to 16 hours.

Although these proposals have not elicited as much concern as the square-footage recommendation, some day-care providers have questioned them as well.

Individuals have until Friday to comment on the proposed changes. The council will vote on the regulations in early spring, and they could take effect late next year.

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