Joseph Allen
Joseph Matthew Allen

By Peter Galuszka

Virginia’s attitudes about light regulation are coming home to roost in a most sensitive area – day care for toddlers.

The point was underlined Wednesday when Chesterfield County charged Laurie F. Underwood, 46, with only a misdemeanor  involving the death of one–year-old Joseph Matthew Allen who died after a fire at Underwood’s house Oct. 21. She had been operating her day care operation without proper state licenses — a common occurrence in the state.

The death was a little more than a month after two children — 21-month-old Kayden Curtis and 9-month-old Dakota Penn-Williams – died at another unregulated home day care operation in Lynchburg.

Both operations were supposed to be licensed but neither had permits. And, in the Chesterfield case, no government agency cross-checked to see that Underwood’s home day care operation had proper licensing. Underwood did have a county business license.

Home day care centers handling from five to 12 children are supposed to be licensed by the state Department of Social Services. But no one checks on unlicensed day care centers, Joron Planter, a department spokesperson, told me in October. The only time they do check is if someone complains. She said: “we have no way of knowing [the child care provider] even exists.”

Home day care centers must get businesses licenses from their localities. In Chesterfield, there are 344 listed but the Department of Social Services has only 156 on its tally. One way to check would be for the county and the state to check each others’ records and investigate, but no one does that.

And that is why Virginia is among the eight worst states for proper home day care regulation, according to Virginia child resource group.ranks among the bottom eight states for its regulation of in-home day cares, according to Child Care Aware of America, a national watchdog group.

Even more jarring is the fact that The Washington Post ran a deeply reported series of stories earlier this year noting that since 2004, there were 60 children killed in home day care centers. Of them, the majority, 43, were in unlicensed operations.

In the Chesterfield case, a fire caused by disposed cinders began in a garage and spread to the rest of the house. Underwood tried to get the seven children out, but in the confusion, the one-year-old was left behind. He had been strapped in a car seat in the home. He was removed by fire fighters but later died of acute thermal inhalation.

The parents of the boy, Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen, have told reporters they are upset at the laxity of the criminal charges.

But then, this is Virginia, where pandering to the anti-regulation dogma is more important than protecting toddlers’ lives.

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19 responses to “The Tragedy of Unregulated Home Child Care”

  1. Peter – I think this is a good subject to discuss with current day conservatives – the ones that are now to the right of RINOs which is virtually most of them.

    Jim had brought up trailer parks also – and regulations.

    I will say this – in you travel to places like rural spotsylvania and Caroline, etc, et al – you will find code and regulation violations out the wazoo… in exceptionally modest homes where people do what they can to keep roof intact and heat in the winter and do very much look after each others kids without the law looking over their shoulders…

  2. Here’s what I would like to know. What are the socio-economic characteristics of families who avail themselves of unregulated child care facilities? Do they tend to be poorer than those who patronize regulated facilities? To what extent, if any, do they patronize the unregulated facilities because they are either (a) cheaper or (b) more convenient than the regulated facilities? If all day care facilities were regulated and brought up to code, would they have to charge more, and, if so, could poorer patrons afford it? If they couldn’t afford, say, an extra $10 a week, what do they do? Quit work? Let 88-year-old grandma look after the kid?

    I’m not arguing against regulation here — in other words, I’m not one of those “anti-regulation dogma” people you talk about. But I would like to get a full accounting of the pros and cons of the issue.

    As is usually the case, Peter G. articulates only the benefits of regulation, not the downside. One of his favorite rhetorical gambits is to apply labels to those who disagree with him that paint them as close-minded or ignorant. Perhaps we should take to describing him as a “regulatory zealot,” the left-wing counterpart to the right-wing “anti-regulatory dogmatist.”

  3. NoVaShenandoah Avatar

    Let the market control these things. Relaxed regulation gave us the 2008 crash and is giving us these deaths. What could possibly go wrong?

  4. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    As someone with a small child who has shopped (and knows many other young couples who have) for daycare in the recent past, I have to say that I agree with Peter’s conclusions.

    There are a lot of sketchy folks out there that play numbers games to remain “unregulated.” I wouldn’t want to place my 1 y.o. in a house which actually has 6 or 7 kids (even though the numbers game makes it look like 4) and only one caretaker. God forbid an emergency arises….I know that I’d be helpless with 6 one an two year olds if I had to get them all out of the house for some reason.

    Here’s a story from Lynchburg about 2 children dying from a fire at an unregulated facility:

    I understand the point about prices rising with regulation. But if we can’t agree that the absolute most vulnerable in our society (1 to 4 year olds) shouldn’t receive some protection and oversight from the state, then we’re in a sad place.

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    From reading the Post article, it looks like local government has authority to regulate all daycare centers. Fairfax County does. So shouldn’t the “blame” be targeted at counties and cities that aren’t addressing child safety?

    As Senator Janet Howell has reminded me on numerous times, local government often has a lot more power to act than it’s willing to use, preferring to blame the Dillon Rule rather than be accountable to its citizens one way or the other.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I hardly see the “other side” when one-year-olds are left strapped in a car seat in a burning building.

    And why the socio-economic mumbo jumbo? Why data-ize this? It’s kinda sick.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      I, for one, approve of Bacon’s plan to sell Irish babies to the British for food.

      1. it does have a certain right wing symmetry to it…

  7. re: do the poor tend to seek these least expensive services that often are unregulated?

    well duh – do bears crap in the woods?

    should we allow unregulated services so the poor can afford it?

    well we already know the answer to that. We’re all in favor of it until some child get sliced and diced by some unsafe condition and there is an outcry.

    but I still say – if you go out into the hinterlands – where they don’t say “poor”, they say they “don’t have much” – you’re gonna find a mother-lode of “violations” that most folks – once they know – will find it odious and unacceptable and demand that social services “look into it” and see what can be done.

    Every year in the rural areas – we have houses burn down (with kids in them) as a result of heating with wood – in ways that a fire inspector would find abhorrent 50 ways from Sunday.

    next unsolvable problem please.

  8. Any regulation that we really intend to enforce – means if the poor cannot afford it – then it will need to be paid for with entitlements – OR – be prepared to hear about kids freezing or starving to death, etc.

    if your solution is to have two standards for regulation – one for those who can afford it and the other for those who cannot.. be honest enough to admit it – if that’s a philosophy one supports. No weasel words.. just be forthright and prepared for others viewpoints about your philosophy.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, this is a local government issue. The state regulates any daycare center that takes care of 6 or more children. Fairfax County has decided to license those that care for as many as five. Fairfax County also offers discounted fees for lower income families enrolled in the after school program. I think there might be some funds for preschool childcare.

      What does Spotsylvania County do? Or are you looking for Fairfax County taxpayers to pick up the tab statewide?

      1. @TMT – we’re a Dillon State right? Have you heard of Social Services by the way and their role in this and how they are funded?

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Larry, I don’t get your point. It seems pretty clear that state law permits local governments to regulate daycare beyond what the state does. That’s fully consistent with the Dillon Rule. And if a city or county wants to fund daycare assistance from tax revenues, it can do so as well. What a local government cannot do is offer the service itself and charge rates above cost to subsidize others. State law prohibits a local government from making a profit on government services.

          1. TMT – they can only do it within the boundaries set by the state and the Social Services offices – run according to State rules and funded jointly by State and local – are involved in the regulation and investigation.

            the real point I am making here beyond the ones above is that it is the State that REQUIREs a minimum level of regulation and also put limits on the maximum amount of local rules…. via DIllion.

            in terms of a “profit”, not sure your point. why would a locality essentially compete against private companies for daycare rather than incentivize as many private providers as they could ?

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            I was referring to the SACC program, which is a largely school-based, after class childcare program operated in Fairfax County. Both my kids were in SACC while they were in grade school. It is an excellent program. Fees cover all the costs except for any subsidies for lower-income families.

            I believe, but am not sure, that Fairfax County uses the same substantive rules (as adapted for the number of slots involved) that the state does. If Fairfax County can do it, so can any other one.

          3. I’m confused… are we talking about Head Start or some other type problem or just routine generic child care?

            why would the schools do that? Down our way – MiniLand and other private providers do this.

  9. TMT is this a self-supporting program?

    why is this done by the school system and not private providers?

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, I cannot directly answer your question. SACC has been around as long as I can remember. As I indicated, it is self-supporting, but for the discounted fees charged to lower-income people. The capacity is not unlimited, and there are usually waiting lists. There are plenty of private before and after school programs as well. The combination of two working parents and school-aged children has created a significant demand for pre and post school child care, generally K-6. Many kids become latchkey once they hit middle school. But there are some middle school programs.

      1. all private down here and the low-income get govt help and can write off their costs on their taxes if they are below the income threshold.

        If the daycare folks are employees of Fairfax and get health care and pensions, it’s probably not self-supporting… down our way the workers at the private daycare, if they get any or nowhere near what school employees get.

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