Eagle Forum of Alabama Press Release on Alabama’s Child Care Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Deborah Love, Executive Director (205) 879-7096

Eagle Forum joins all Alabamians in offering our prayers and deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the adorable five-year-old boy who authorities report died while in the care of an employee at Community Nursery and Preschool Academy in West Mobile.

The fact that the family has already filed a lawsuit indicates that current laws were not properly followed to ensure the child’s safety.  As stated in the Alabama Statute Title 38, “THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES SHALL, PRIOR TO THE DISBURSEMENT OF ANY SUBSIDIZED CHILD CARE FUNDS, REQUIRE ALL EMPLOYEES AND APPLICANTS OF LEGALLY OPERATING CHILD CARE FACILITIES TO SUBMIT VERIFICATION OF THE APPLICATION FOR A CRIMINAL HISTORY BACKGROUND CHECK AND THE RESULTS THEREOF WHEN OBTAINED.” (ALA.CODE 1975 § 38-13-3)
Minimal research reveals that the Community Nursery and Preschool Academy in West Mobile received federal subsidies, thus AL DHR had an affirmative duty to ensure background checks were conducted and received by DHR before they released funds. In addition to the state law, the Federal law requires these safety regulations to be followed. In 2013, the Inspector General clarified current Federal regulations to address states failing to oversee subsidized funds in licensed exempt facilities. “As written, the proposed regulations do not allow providers to self-certify compliance with health and safety requirements, and require States to take specific steps to monitor all CCDF providers.” https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-10-00231.pdf.  Additionally, in 2014, President Obama signed important legislation insuring accountability with federal funds, and all child care facilities receiving federal funds including licensed-exempt face additional inspections and requirements.
http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/11/some_church_child_care_centers.html.

Yet some irresponsible news outlets are accusing legislators who opposed a bill in the last legislative session of being responsible for this child’s death.  Rev. Robin Mears who helped in writing the Child Protection law in 1999 and is Executive Director of Alabama Christian Education Association stated, “IF the 2017 legislature had passed HB277, it would not have prevented this tragedy. WHY pass more laws if the agency entrusted to oversee the compliance with those laws is AWOL?” In addition to the background check requirement, Alabama law already requires staff qualifications to be provided to parents in a signed affidavit. This must be sent to DHR as well. There are other regulations including that multiple agencies are required to inspect all licensed exempt facilities. http://dhr.alabama.gov/services/Child_Care_Services/license%20Exempt%20Centers.aspx

At least twelve state agencies are already required to regulate every child care facility whether licensed or licensed (exempt). The four legislators cited by columnists as having been responsible for the defeat of HB277 acted in good faith, borne out of an honest political disagreement over both the effectiveness and appropriateness of certain facets of the bill.  There is no evidence to suggest that licenses ensure child safety.
Parents should not falsely rely on this as supporters of HB277 suggest. Examples of abuse have occurred in every child care environment in Alabama. Incidents of child abuse and neglect have even occurred at licensed facilities after complaints were filed with proper authorities.
http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2016/01/authorities_shut_down_homewood.html
http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2010/12/former_hoover_day_care_work_wo.html

Eagle Forum of Alabama rejects the falsehood that child safety and religious liberty are mutually exclusive.  Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that current child safety laws are sufficient if they are enforced by the proper authorities.  Eagle Forum of Alabama’s analysis on HB277 was signed by twenty organizations, child care providers, and leaders including, The Blackstone & Burke Center For Law and Liberty and the South East Law Institute.

HB277 would not have improved child safety or prevented failed compliance by DHR with existing laws.  The statements recently made by some misinformed media sources are false and misleading.  Eagle Forum of Alabama and the legislators mentioned work every session to promote sound public policy solutions to pressing issues faced by Alabama families.  Several falsehoods have been repeated and spread in the media about licensed exempt facilities in Alabama.  Some such statements appear to have been borne out of prejudice against ministries which hold traditional values and religious beliefs. One major lie is that licensed exempt facilities are exempt from DHR regulation or state laws involving child safety including back ground checks. That is false. No one is legally allowed to harm children in Alabama regardless of the environment.  Again, it is up to state prosecutors and DHR to enforce our laws in the areas of child safety.

Rather than address the issue of DHR’s failure to ensure that federally subsidized facilities follow the law, proponents of HB277 advocate removal of religious liberty protection of all church ministries.  Some have disingenuously and deceitfully refused to recognize the facts in favor of unconstitutional church regulation.  The individuals who violated current state laws and the authorities who failed to enforce them are the individuals responsible for this tragic death. Clearly the individual who neglected or harmed the child should be held responsible.  The question remains, “Why is DHR not ensuring compliance with federal and state law?”

See our Get the Facts document here.