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Child care change in capable hands


Hoosiers joined in grieving the deaths of 20 small children in Newtown, Conn., last month. But how many Hoosiers know the death toll in Indiana’s child care industry?

How many know that 18-month-old Payton Brettell was strangled by a car seat strap inside his unlicensed child care provider’s home in Warsaw in August? Child care operator Dana Shell is charged with a Class A felony, neglect of a dependent. There were 11 other children in the home at the time.

How many know that 22-month-old Skylar Bullocks died in September, about a month after she was pulled from a backyard swimming pool at an unlicensed home day care program? She was among “about 10” children at the Osceola home, although state law restricts unlicensed operators to providing care for half that number. Skylar was a foster child. No charges were filed in the case.

How many recall that 4-month-old Kynli Clevenger died July 18 in an unlicensed home day care in Brownsburg? Police said Monica Cunningham had as many as 14 children in the home. The parents of the baby girl have filed a civil suit against Cunningham; a pretrial conference is set for April.

How many Hoosiers know that 1-year-old Carlos Cardenas drowned in a baptismal pool at Praise Fellowship Assembly of God in Indianapolis last February?

“That wasn’t an accident,” Juan Cardenas told an Indianapolis TV station last year. “It was someone who was not watching my son. They are thinking, ‘We have to keep this going with the business and bring in money.’ ”

Cardenas has filed a claim against the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

“The bottom line is … Indiana was sanctioning this unlicensed day care,” said Stephen Wagner, his attorney. “They have the authority to inspect the premises. If they had done a good job of inspecting the day care, they would’ve shut it down sooner.”

State officials’ defense is that state law allows them to do little in regulating faith-based child care programs or unlicensed child care operators. That must change.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, is chairman of the interim study committee that examined Indiana’s lax child care regulations. He said multiple bills likely will be filed to tighten regulations on child care providers or to offer incentives to parents to choose high-quality care. The committee approved the preliminary drafts for eight bills at an October meeting and endorsed the concept behind another.

Kenneth Walter, who owns the licensed Abacus Child Care Center in Fort Wayne, was among those who testified before the study committee. He said this week that Indiana has sensible child care requirements, it’s just that they aren’t applied evenly. A classification of programs known as “registered ministries” is exempt from all but the most basic health and safety requirements. Interest groups representing churches have complained that additional regulations would be too costly.

“Why put cost above safety? We’re talking about kids here – kids who don’t have anyone to speak for them but us,” Walter said.

Among the proposed bills is one that changes the definition of a child care ministry. Some operators have been proclaiming themselves as faith-based providers, even though they have no affiliation with a church.

Holdman said he’s hopeful changes can be approved this year. Rep. Cindy Noe, who killed regulation as chairwoman of the House’s Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee, was defeated in her re-election bid. Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, will lead the panel this year. She’s a board member for Early Childhood Alliance, which developed the effective Paths to Quality program defining high-quality child care.

In Holdman and Kubacki, northeast Indiana has two proponents who could finally ensure children have better protection in child care settings, as they have in most other states. They can do much to keep more children from dying.