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First federal health and safety standards for child care announced

After a growing number of high-profile media reports of children who have died or been injured in child
care, the Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday morning that it will for the first time
impose tough national health and
safety standards for all child care
facilities that accept government
subsidies.

The proposed regulations will require workers in all subsidized child-care centers and homes to be trained in first-aid procedures, such as CPR, and safe sleeping practices. They call for universal background checks and fingerprinting of child care workers. And they impose tough standards for monitoring and inspections to ensure that the regulations are being followed.

Although the new regulations apply only to the 513,000 child care centers and family homes that accept subsidies for the 1.6 million children who receive them through the federal Child Care and Development Fund, HHS officials said the hope is that nonsubsidized centers will follow suit.

“We frankly can’t wait any longer, “ said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, making the announcement yesterday at CentroNia, a child care center in Washington, D.C. “Fifteen years have passed since we last updated our child care rules, and we’ve had tragic stories of children lost and families devastated because there were no safety standards in place to protect them. We have a sacred responsibility to protect our
children.”

The new regulations are “common sense” standards to both protect children and give parents more information to make informed decisions, Sebelius said.

President Obama, spurred by new science on how critical the early years are for brain development and by lagging academic achievement among economically disadvantaged children, has made early childhood development a key policy for his second administration, pushing for millions to fund universal pre-K programs.

HHS officials said the administration is “adamant” about instituting new regulations.

The new regulations would supersede the current patchwork of health and safety standards that each
state now sets and that critics have long argued are too low and endanger
too many children. As many as 1 in 5 children who receive the child
care subsidy are in unlicensed and
unregulated child care settings with
no health and safety requirements at all.

“This is a huge deal,” said Grace Reef, policy director for Child Care Aware of America, a child care resource and referral network. “There have been so many tragedies. It’s been 17 years since the law’s been reauthorized. It’s time we take a hard look and ask: ‘What can we do to promote the health and safety of children?’ ”

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