The following editorial was published on the Des Moines Register on Aug. 7:
Many politicians talk about “family values. Those who truly value families advocate for higher wages, affordable housing, funding for food assistance, higher education and child care subsidies.
That’s because the economic reality in this country forces most parents into the workplace. Couples with children can rarely afford for one parent to stay home, an option that is virtually impossible for single parents.
Among their biggest challenges: Finding affordable, quality child care. That is not easy, assuming it’s available at all.
A recent Des Moines Register investigation by reporter Jason Clayworth found: An Iowa child care worker who took meth, hallucinated and then reported to police a bleeding man had emerged from a wall. At another day care center, a staff member yanked a child by the arm and dislocated his shoulder. At an in-home day care, police found baggies with heroin residue in a bedroom dresser.
Then there are the fatalities.
At least four times in the past 18 months, a child has died at an Iowa day care where authorities had previously warned providers they were caring for too many children.
Among the children who died was 17-month-old Tucker Schneider. His caregiver, Trina Mazza, had been warned twice that state law allowed her to care for no more than five children at her unregulated day care in Johnston.
On the day of Schneider’s death, Mazza was allegedly caring for seven children. She now faces a charge of felony child endangerment causing death.
Prosecutions in cases like this are important — to not only hold accountable wrongdoing, but to send a message to providers and parents that laws intended to keep children safe will be enforced. In fact, state investigators should forward any safety-related problem at any day care to county prosecutors for follow-up.
This newspaper’s reporting found caregivers sometimes flout state oversight requirements when caring for more than five children. State leaders should consider requiring registration for anyone whose primary income is derived from child care, even if they’re caring for five or fewer children. Family members could be exempted.
Registration would create a record of all paid caregivers and allow for the creation of a comprehensive database parents could use to find out about overcapacity warnings and other problems.
Of course, being identified or regulated by the state does not guarantee safety. Of the seven children known to have died in Iowa day cares in 2018-19, five were in regulated day cares.
Also, accidents and unexpected deaths will happen. About 250 children under the age of 1 die in Iowa each year, including many related to sleep environments. About 50 children between the ages of 1 and 4 die each year.
Many of these deaths are no one’s fault and on occasion they will occur in day cares.
Yet government should do all it can to try to ensure children are in the safest environments possible. Parents need to do that, too.
Entrusting someone to care for your child comes with the responsibility of checking the state’s child abuse registry, online court filings, inspection reports for regulated day cares, talking to other parents and stopping by a center or home unannounced to see what’s going on.
Also, working parents need more options for child care, particularly in rural areas. How do we get more providers? By attracting more quality caregivers and helping parents pay for care.
Iowa should make changes to the Child Care Assistance program, which uses federal and state money to help low-income, working families pay child care expenses. Expanding eligibility for aid and paying higher reimbursements to approved providers could help more residents pay for care and encourage more competent individuals to offer it.
Because working families — the bedrock of our state — need help. The same young mother politicians demonize for relying on public assistance cannot go to work if there’s no one to care for her infant. And she should have a safe place to take that child when she’s punching the clock.