Emmalea Elizabeth Lloyd died in a fire at a west-central Indiana day care business Tuesday, the day the Indiana Senate approved a bill that sets long-overdue limits on child care providers who accept tax-supported vouchers.
House Bill 1036 might not have saved the toddler’s life had it already been in effect, but it undoubtedly will save others if it becomes law. Her death should give new urgency to the legislation, which still requires final legislative approval and the governor’s signature.
Waterman’s Wonderland Daycare in Sullivan was the scene of the Tuesday fire. Sullivan County Coroner Jeff Griffith said the 17-month-old was found in a playpen, dead of smoke inhalation. Five other children, ages 1-10, and two adults escaped unharmed.
They went back to get the other child, but it was too late, Sullivan Fire Chief Rob Robertson said.
The state fire marshal ruled the blaze accidental. Officials believe something may have fallen into the baseboard heating unit of the modular structure in which the child care facility was located.
Christa Waterman’s day care business is registered with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration as a Class II child care home, authorized to provide services for as many as 16 children at one time.
Waterman did not participate in the voluntary Paths to Quality child care rating system, where Level 1 shows basic health and safety standards are met and Level 4 indicates national accreditation.
Indiana’s oversight of home child care providers and church-based day cares is egregiously lax. With Emmalea’s death, at least 23 children have now died in child care settings since 2009; 16 in unlicensed day cares. Three-month-old Coree Carmichael died a year ago at an unlicensed home in Garrett.
HB 1036 requires providers to meet tougher health, education, safety and training requirements to collect federal Child Care and Development Fund voucher payments from parents. More than 1,000 unlicensed homes, centers and day care ministries are now collecting federal voucher payments. They have been zealously protected from regulation, however, by conservative groups such as Advance America, which managed to fend off tougher rules even after 1-year-old Juan Cardenas drowned in a baptismal font at a church day care in 2012.
But the growing death toll seems to have finally stunted the groups’ influence. Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, is author of the current bill, and Syracuse Republican Rebecca Kubacki is a co-sponsor. Markle Republican Travis Holdman is a Senate sponsor. He has led efforts to increase child care regulations in previous sessions.
Mahan’s bill is assigned to conference committee, where he expects it to win unanimous consent. The legislation also will require the signature of Gov. Mike Pence, who gave a fiery speech in support of Advance America and its battle against child care regulations at the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2011.
Mahan said he had not spoken to the governor about the bill but had no reason to believe he would veto it.
This isn’t a bill about churches, the former Blackford County sheriff said. It’s a bill about protecting Hoosier children. We’re not telling a pastor how to pastor his church.
For Emmalea, Coree and Juan, lawmakers shouldn’t back down. Anyone who provides care for children – and particularly those who take federal dollars to do so – must meet the requirements necessary to keep them safe.