MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Your mother is not able to care for herself anymore. She is often confused and has difficulty walking. As you consider the best options for her, your family begins to investigate various nursing homes in the area.
Which one will you choose? Will you select the nursing home that is licensed and professionally inspected for safety and other health standards? Or will you choose a nursing home that is unlicensed with no outside review of procedures? Fortunately here in Alabama you will not have to make such a decision. All nursing homes are inspected regularly to make sure they are providing safe and healthy care to their patients.
Now you must find the right child care for your new baby. She, like your mother, can’t walk on her own, feed or take care of herself. You are considering the best options for your daughter while you are at work. Will you choose the day care program that is licensed and regularly inspected for safety and health standards or will you choose the one that is not licensed? Unfortunately, in Alabama, you will have to look carefully and ask the right questions to find a facility that is regularly inspected. Statewide, a large and increasing number of programs are not inspected. The number of licensed programs is declining while the number of unlicensed/uninspected facilities is increasing.
As parents, there is no way to really know how safe a day care center is without regular inspections from outside professionals. Are there enough adults for the number of children? Is the classroom or play space arranged to reduce the chance of serious accidents? Are diaper changing areas cleaned and maintained properly to avoid illness? Does the staff have appropriate training and experience for dealing with challenging situations that can arise? Have they had criminal background checks?
These are serious questions that parents can’t answer for themselves, but that can make the difference between a safe and healthy facility and one that represents real risks to our kids.
Even good, conscientious providers sometimes can’t identify or correct all the issues without some professional help and advice. Clean, pretty facilities can have hidden risks to the untrained eye. That’s where qualified inspectors come in. Their job is not to shut down the facility, but to help providers meet minimum standards. Inspectors come with a checklist to make sure nothing is overlooked. On their list are things such as fire safety, adult to child ratio, and safety of playground equipment. Job one is to make sure kids are safe, so parents can have confidence and peace of mind.
Years ago, when child care legislation was enacted by lawmakers in Alabama, faith-based centers and programs caring for children for four hours or less were given an exemption from licensure – and, as a result, from regular inspection. Now, the number of these “exempt” programs is growing dramatically.
Each year, the number of facilities that apply for and are granted faith-based exemptions increases. Some are excellent programs and meet or exceed minimum standards. Others are not legitimately faith-based as defined in the law and are falsely claiming the exemption to avoid inspection and cut corners to save money. Programs serving children for four or fewer hours a day need inspection just as much as longer programs. A child in care for four hours needs the same safe and healthy environment as one who is in care longer.
Inspections make simple common sense and they should be the norm. Alabama’s consumer protection laws require faith-based nursing homes and faith-based hospitals to be inspected. Other businesses such as restaurants, bars, beauty parlors and dentist offices must also pass health and safety inspection. Our neighboring states required regular childcare inspections.
It’s time for Alabama to put our children first. All children deserve a safe and healthy place to spend the day. And families deserve to be confident that their young children are in a quality, safe environment that can allow them to grow and learn.