Missouri’s new child care law causing unintended disruptions

Day care operators say a loophole in a new law that regulates the number of children under 5 allowed in unlicensed home-based days cares is forcing operators of some licensed day care facilities to turn away children.

Before the law took effect Aug. 28, unlicensed, in-home childcare providers could care for four or fewer unrelated children and an unlimited number of related children. Under the new law, unlicensed providers may care for only six children, and no more than three under the age of 2. However, the day care operators’ own children over the age of 5 are exempt from the total count.

The law does not include that exemption for children over the age of 5 for licensed day care operators, who must count their own children, regardless of age. That oversight has forced some licensed day care operators to turn away unrelated children in order to stay within their licensed capacity, The Columbia Missourian reported .

The new law is called Nathan’s Law, after Nathan Blecha, who was 3 months old when he died in an unlicensed child care home in 2007.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who sponsored the laws, said the effect on licensed providers was an oversight but that she does not intend to change it.

“The law is not perfect, but the problem is being handled by regulations and the use of a waiver process by the Department of Health and Senior Services,” Schupp said.

To fix the loophole, the state is granting variances to licensed care homes for their biological children age 5 and older on a case-by-case basis. Not all licensed providers, however, qualify for the variance. For example, grandchildren can’t be included under the variance.

Amanda Frevert, of Fayette, said her licensed provider told her less than a week before the law was enacted that they could no longer take care of her 7-year-old son because the provider had to make room for her own grandchildren. Frevert will rely on nearby friends and family to watch her son him for an hour every day after school.

Deb Williams, the owner of a licensed child care home, said the changes forced her to turn away children she has been looking after for years because she also must count her grandchildren.

“My grandchildren just come sometimes,” Williams said. “They’re not Monday through Friday, they’re not full time, they’re occasionally visiting. But I have to save two full-time slots in case they want to visit.”

Some Missouri lawmakers have raised concerns about the law, particularly that licensed day care operators weren’t notified until Aug. 2 that they had to count their own children under their license agreement.

“Representatives have gone to the speaker and brought up concerns that there isn’t enough time to roll this out,” said Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville.

Schupp said lawmakers will consider how the law affects those it’s intended to help and proceed from there.