YAKIMA — People who provide child care inside their homes will be required to comply with new rules as of Aug. 1 in Washington state, raising uncertainty among some providers.

Yakima area providers have expressed concern about not having a firm understanding of changes and fearing license revocations or write-ups. But state officials say there’s nothing to fear.

“If you’re in good standing with licensing right now, you will continue to be in good standing — it’s nothing to worry about,” Luba Bezborodnikova, assistant secretary of licensing for the Department of Children, Youth and Families, said Monday. “The majority of the regulations are the same.”

The new codes regulating everything from early learning practices and safety measures to tooth brushing were developed by the state agency in collaboration with community organizations, child care unions and providers beginning in 2017. They are set to go into effect on Aug. 1.

The new rules were developed specifically for in-home providers, and align with regulations already in effect at bigger child care centers.

Concerns with codes

Over the past year, the department has provided training sessions to help providers understand impending changes. Official DCYF “deep dive” in-person trainings were held in Bellevue, Olympia, Spokane and Pasco each month since January — with the closest location roughly 85 miles from Yakima. Online and live learning options also were offered to providers.

But last month, SEIU Local 925, a state education union covering issues from early education through higher education, gathered roughly 1,200 signatures from in-home providers across the state to submit to DCYF, asking for more training and time to come in line with the regulations.

The petition called for state funding to support providers in making changes; clarification on new education requirements for providers; more time for state workers to understand and train providers on rules; and that DCYF make racial equity and inclusion a priority in the transition.

“We want more training. Even if we have to pay for it, we want the right training so that when they come, we’re on the same page with them,” said Amelia Gil, owner of Tia Amelia’s Daycare in Union Gap.

“August is just around the corner,” she added. “We’re just like, ‘What do we do?’ So, we’re just waiting on licensers to show up and start writing things down that we don’t have or that we’re not in compliance with.”

Yakima providers told the Yakima Herald-Republic they were concerned they would be penalized for any misinterpretation or misalignment with new rules, and that the number of in-home care centers would decrease in Yakima and throughout the state in response.

Child care facilities have been on an alarming decline in Yakima in recent years. In just over a year, the number of licensed child care providers in Yakima dropped from 416 to 352, as of this month, according to ChildCare Aware, a nonprofit child care referral and advocacy group. Roughly 71 percent of those remaining are in-home providers.

Bezborodnikova of DCYF said they hope to support providers so people don’t leave the business. The new rules will go into effect on Aug. 1, but the first year is being viewed as a transition period, she said.

“It’s a lot of policy changes that need to take place, and we fully understand that it’s probably not possible to do it all at once starting August 1,” she said. “It (will be) a lot of support that licensers can provide on how to change or update policies” during the first year of inspections.

Transition time

Bezborodnikova said she’s worried that providers view the state agency as a punishing body. Under the new system, they hope to create a supportive rather than disciplinary relationship with child care providers.

While provider infractions will be noted, she said, low-risk practices such as tooth brushing or safety exits from outside playgrounds will be placed on an improvement plan. State workers will then provide feedback to help providers align with rules. Things like new manuals for parents and staff are expected to be slowly developed in the coming months, rather than passed out before the Aug. 1 deadline.

Only high-risk infractions to things such as education or safety practices will have an impact on licensing, Bezborodnikova said. Most of these regulations are unchanged under the new rules, she said. For the first year, any reports of violations will be vetted by the central Reliability Council to ensure consistent enforcement throughout the state.

Bezborodnikova emphasized that state workers were thoroughly trained and are continuing to undergo training. As they begin assessing providers under the new regulations, pairs of inspectors will vet providers and then compare notes to ensure at least 80 percent alignment of scoring in an effort to improve consistency.

While she said it is up to individual providers, as business owners, to ensure they align with state regulations — as they would for fire or business licenses — DCYF has published guidelines in English, Spanish, Somali and Russian to meet needs. She also said an interactive manual would be published piece by piece over the next year and available in three to five languages.

“This transition year is a learning year for all of us ... to continue to figure out how to build compliance and how to build trust within the field again,” she said. “We’re here for the children, not for any other reason.”

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