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State early child care rules to be relaxed

SDPB / Joshua Haiar

The state Rules Review Committee has approved a comprehensive rewrite of South Dakota’s child care rules.

It addresses several areas – including how many children can be cared for at once.

On the table for the committee, among other things, was the ratio of children to providers, expanding the duties of staff members as young as 14, and removing hours of training requirements.

Jeremy Lippert is the director of legal services for the state Department of Social Services. He said after speaking with providers, this a sweeping rewrite of the rules package.

“We took that feedback seriously and initiated a comprehensive review of the regulatory requirements of all child care settings to ensure safety, clarity, and remove unnecessary regulation," Lippert said. "In pursuing these objectives, the department began by analyzing current rules in contrast to existing federal requirements, and identified several that didn’t directly align.”

Balancing children to providers in a responsible way has proven to be a challenge. For mixed-age groups in state-regulated centers, current law sets the ratio at 12 children to each care workers. With this package, that is set to 15 children to one provider, and a family provider can care for three infants at a time.

Long-time early childhood educator Fran Langenfeld Apland spoke against the proposed package. She said some skills are lost when managing large groups of kids.

“Executive function skills are those skills children need to pause rather than hitting someone, and we really need those skills – that’s supported by the Harvard Center for Developing Children," Apland said. "What we create in child care rolls into our schools.”

Unregulated, unlicensed childcare centers were another concern. Under current law, child care services can operate without state regulation so long as they care for fewer than 12 children.

Sen. Red Dawn Foster was a no vote on the package. She raised the issue in Tuesday's meeting.

(Foster) “As it stands right now, can an unlicensed child care provider provide care for three or four infants with no requirements for any type of training – so the training that we’re talking about – they don’t have to utilize that as long as they’re unregulated or unlicensed?”

(Lippert) “Yes, that is correct.”

The ruleswere approved on a vote of 4-2 and go into effect early next month pending review from the Secretary of State.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture