Extension agents reach out to unlicensed child care providers

Caring for children can be a stressful and difficult job.

But, when a child care provider tries to care for too many children, accidents can happen. According to a study by The Washington Post, about 60 children died in Virginia day care settings between 2004 and 2014. Nearly 75 percent of these deaths occurred at unlicensed homes, where child care providers faced no inspections or background checks.

As a result of these tragic accidents, several new, stricter state laws were passed in Virginia in 2015. As this issue was recognized, Karen DeBord, Virginia Cooperative Extension family and human development specialist, saw a need to reach out to and provide education to unlicensed child care providers.

“Very often, people start agreeing to care for children and unknowingly stretch the limits. Families may ask them to care for their child, and caring adults open their doors and hearts to help but end up taking on too many children,” DeBord said.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s new child care database enrolls unlicensed child care providers, offers free educational materials to improve child safety, and encourages appropriate activities for learning. The goal of this initiative is to locate unlicensed child care providers and supply them with resources ranging from school readiness activities and day trip ideas to safety checklists and nutritional information, while building trust with the providers.

The website directs child care providers to a survey asking for general information, such as how many children are in their care, the children’s ages, and the provider’s name and email address.

Once Extension agents learn more about the child care providers from the information they provide on the survey, agents can supply them with age-specific resources for the children under their supervision. DeBord says the agents offer school preparedness and literacy exercises for preschool-aged children.

“We want children to be safe and ready for school,” DeBord said. “No matter the season, we want them to be spending their time involved in healthy learning activities.”

Extension agents are working with state child care organizations and agencies in order to spread the word to those interested in the free resources Extension has to offer. Those who take the survey, which can be found at http://childcareva.org, have access to the website’s information and resources.

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