Child care providers ponder state licenses

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Home child-care provider Karen Muehlenkamp has already decided she will become state licensed.

Vikki Epperson, who only cares for her grandchildren, will not.

Heather Shepard is unsure.

They and other unlicensed home child-care providers statewide are approaching a crossroads.

In the coming months, those who want to continue to care for unrelated children who receive child care assistance or participate in other publicly funded programs will be faced with a choice: become state licensed or get out of the business.

Under new state regulations, unlicensed providers who are registered with the state, a prerequisite for participating in programs such as child-care assistance or the food program, will have a year to obtain a child-care license. Providers who care only for their relatives' children are exempt from the licensing requirement.

The regulations also will reduce the number of children registered providers can care for, including their own children, from eight to five. Only two of those may be under the age of 30 months.

Registered providers would be called approved providers under the new regulations.

Reaction from a handful of local providers who attended a Tuesday night meeting was mixed.

Shepard said the changes seem invasive.

''It is not that it is undoable, it is just kind of annoying,'' she said. ''My husband is not real big on having our home turned into a facility. I think it is more the idea of just being state-regulated.''

She worries that some licensing regulations will not mesh well with her home.

''We have a trampoline. We are not getting rid of it,'' Shepard said. ''Things like the choking thing, I am careful, but at the same time my own kids need to be able to play with their Legos.''

Provider Becky Centner had similar concerns.

''I am not going to have to do major repairs or anything,'' Centner said. ''I am just so mixed on the licensing. I guess in the long run it will be better because then the kids do have more protections and we as providers have more options.''

Not all registered providers are accepting of the coming change.

''There are a lot of day-care providers out there that will probably end up quitting because they will have to end up doing the licensing,'' Centner said.

She knows of at least four. ''That is at least 16 children without day care,'' she said.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough child-care assistance office has about 234 registered providers on its rolls, according to program administrator Cheryl Keepers. About 185 of those currently are providing care for children. She was unsure how many are providing care only to related children.

The local child-care referral office is bracing for parents to start changing child-care arrangements.

''We know there is going to be a lot of movement,'' said Theresa Clarkin, a referral specialist with the office.

Muehlenkamp, another registered provider, worries that parents with infants and toddlers will suffer under the new regulations. Care for children that young is scarce.

''I just think there are going to be a lot of people that are not going to have any option to put their child in home day care,'' she said. ''They are going to be forced to put their child in the big day cares.''

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