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In-home child care providers throughout the Mid-Columbia and Eastern Washington have started reaching out to the parents of the children they care for to request time off.
On Aug. 1, many don’t plan to open their doors.
“It’s a movement. We’re not striking. We’re just requesting a day off so (the state can) see what it is to have no providers for just one day,” said Guadalupe Magallan, who has provided in-home child care in Kennewick for 16 years.
Magallan, who serves as an informal mentor to providers throughout Eastern Washington, said she’s been spreading the word through social media to her peers.
There are nearly 300 licensed child care centers in the Tri-Cities.
“We’re making noise in July, and then the first is the day of silence,” she said.
The protest is in response to new state rules being rolled out Aug. 1 in an attempt to better align in-home providers with larger child care centers’ practices.
They cover a range of topics, including proper furniture for specific age ranges, hygiene practices, employee and parent handbook updates, safety measures and learning guidelines.
They were developed beginning in 2017 by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, child care union representatives and community members. Trainings have been offered to providers in-person each month since January in Bellevue, Olympia, Spokane and Pasco, as well as online.
DCYF officials overseeing the changes say “high-risk” rules, such as safety and education practices, remain largely unchanged, while less serious practices like tooth brushing processes have been adjusted.
But many providers have expressed uncertainty over new expectations and fear losing their licenses or being reprimanded for misinterpretations or misalignment. Some plan to close their in-home businesses in anticipation of increasing expectations.
DCYF assistant secretary of licensing Luba Bezborodnikova told the Yakima Herald-Republic that the body intended to implement the rules on schedule, but that the first year would be viewed as a transition period, meaning failure to align with low-risk rules like tooth brushing practices wouldn’t lead to penalties
Instead, state workers would note any misalignment and provide feedback to providers to help them improve.
But Magallan said this is not the message the provider community has received.
“Implementation means to us that (enforcement of the rules) is something that’s going to happen as soon as the licensor comes in the door,” she said. “They’re going to look for those things. That’s what our providers in Washington have an understanding of.”
Last month, SEIU Local 925, a state education union covering issues from early education through higher education, submitted a petition to the DCYF asking it to postpone implementation.
Now, Magallan said, providers are taking the next step – collectively closing their doors Aug. 1.
“We’re trying to let them know that this is something we’re not ready for and they’re not ready for,” said Magallan.
She said word is spreading to the west side of the state as well, where she expects providers to join the day of silence.
In Yakima alone, at least 70 providers are expected to close Aug. 1, according to Natalia Medina, a Yakima provider who was part of the child care negotiating team last year for SEIU Local 925.
Magallan said she doesn’t know how many of her Tri-City colleagues will join in. But she said interest has picked up in the past month.
There were 141 child care providers in Benton County and 160 in Franklin in 2018, according to most current ChildCare Aware, a nonprofit child care referral and advocacy group.
Medina said one-on-one support from state workers would be welcomed – but that DCYF hasn’t convinced providers they won’t be reprimanded for misalignment starting in August.
For the community to trust that the state won’t be penalizing providers during this transition year, they need to see it in writing from DCYF and in the various first-languages of providers, said Magallan, noting a recent statement from DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter sent to providers in English.
“They’re always talking about our centers being diverse,” she said, noting English, Spanish, Somali and Russian providers throughout the state. “For them to say that and not to do it (in a way that is accessible to providers) doesn’t make sense.”
Bezborodnikova said news of the daylong shutdown was discouraging.
“It’s very sad that we still don’t have this level of trust between the department and licensing and providers and the community,” she said. “It’s sad that providers still feel that we are not supportive enough. We will continue to work on this.”
Bezborodnikova said she intended to prepare another official statement following Hunter’s further clarifying that minor infractions would not lead to penalties – and said the body would “definitely” make it available in the various languages of providers.
“We definitely will do that, and I hope it will be enough to ensure providers that we will be focusing on supporting them in this transitional year, more than ever,” she said.
Tri-City Herald staff writer Wendy Culverwell contributed to this report.