SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are focusing on financial
incentives as a way to raise standards at child care centers, even those
that are associated with religious groups.
The Legislature’s interim Committee on Child Care is looking at setting
minimum standards for any facility that receives federal money and at
offering financial incentives to parents to choose centers that provide a
higher level of care.
Faith-based ministries that run child care centers in Indiana must meet far
fewer regulations than licensed centers. But the drowning of a 1-year-old
boy in a baptismal pool at an Indianapolis church’s child care last February
reignited the debate about whether the disparate regulations are a good
Previous attempts to set out requirements for child care ministries have
failed, primarily because conservative groups said they feared attempts to
set a minimum age for caregivers and maximum ratios of children to adults
could lead to more government involvement and blur the line between church
But now lawmakers are looking at setting standards just for facilities
receiving federal money. In 2011, nearly 4,500 child care facilities in
Indiana received funding through Child Care Development Funding vouchers for
“Facilities that are going to take tax dollars and redeem them need to play
along with the rules instead of trying to avoid those just based on what you
call yourself. Because if you call yourself a ministry they become exempt
from having to abide by a lot of the rules that other folks have to,” said
state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, chairman of the interim Committee on
Licensed centers must have one adult for every four infants, every five
toddlers, every 10 3-year-olds, and 20 6-year-olds. They also must have
child care providers who are over the age of 18.
For child care ministries to be registered, they need only be a
not-for-profit organization and show that they have a religious affiliation.
And that’s something that has “a pretty wide definition,” said Melanie
Brizzi, who heads the state’s Bureau of Child Care.
Child care advocates say faith-based ministries should have to meet the same
standards as other child care centers in Indiana.
“We should not be saying that some centers are exempt from certain safety
precautions or certain supervision requirements just because just because
they affiliate themselves as a registered ministry versus a licensed child
care center,” said Mindi Goodpaster, director of public policy and advocacy
coordinator for the Marion County Commission on Youth.
But Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of
Indiana, contends that putting more restrictions on faith-based facilities
might make it harder for some families, especially low-income families, to
find child care.
“Many of them might choose to stop taking the vouchers, then there would be
fewer options for parents,” he said.
Another way Holdman proposes improving child care is by giving tax credits
to parents who put their children in centers that have attained the top two
levels of the state Family and Social Services Administration’s Path to
Quality, which is a program for rating facilities. Those in the highest
level must have national accreditation, while those in the second-highest
level must follow planned curriculum guides aimed at making sure children
are ready for school.
“I just think that is good public policy for trying to strengthen preschool
education,” he said.
One criticism of ministry-based child care centers is that they don’t have
to be affiliated with a church. A bill recommended by the interim committee
would require that the religious organization running such a program has a
recognized creed and form of worship, an established place of worship and
regular religious services with a congregation.
Clark said he didn’t know enough about that part of the proposal to talk
about it, but said churches are worried about the state getting too involved
in how they run their child care centers because they fear the next step
might be trying to regulate church nurseries or Sunday school classes.
“There’s worry about the government moving into areas they’ve never been
before,” he said.