Editorial other views

The following editorial published in the “Amarillo Globe-News” on May 28:

The impact local journalism can have on daily life came into plain view late last week when a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers tackled child care reform with a series of bills aimed at bringing greater oversight and long-overdue resources to ensuring accountability for day care facilities across Texas.

The legislative focus was, in part, the result of a powerful Austin American-Statesman series entitled “Unwatched,” a 12-part investigative report that revealed almost 90 children had died of abuse and neglect in Texas day care sites over the previous decade, that another 450 were sexually abused and that the state was many times lax and ineffective in dealing with wayward day care operations.

An outflow of this intense journalistic scrutiny is a package of reform measures, two of which have reached the governor’s desk and two others needing minor differences worked out before they head that way. Equally impressive, the state budget for the 2020-2021 cycle includes $2 million for the state to hire 20 new employees who will be dedicated to a specific day care-related issue.

Regulators will have more tools, such as stiffer fines and the ability to crack down on facilities that violate safety rules; the aforementioned new employees will be responsible for ferreting out illegal day care operations, which is where the majority of child deaths took place; oversight in the form of regular inspections will increase for what are typically known as family homes, the least regulated aspect of the legal day care spectrum; and the Health and Human Services Commission will collect data on injury rates and classroom size – historically a safety-prediction metric.

“The concerns highlighted by the Statesman’s investigation provided the necessary momentum to make significant strides,” Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said in our story. “But our work is far from complete, and the Legislature will have to maintain regular oversight and continue the discussion on how we can address the affordability of child care.”

Shining daylight into corners of society where few others look is one of the most important functions of a free press, and the day care series demonstrates how excellent community journalism can be an agent of change as well as a logical voice of advocacy.

The state’s problems concerning day care safety fall into two main areas – struggles to enforce standards at the child care centers and licensed day care homes that are regularly inspected and a failure to keep track of numerous smaller home-based operations that inspectors do not see until a tragedy has taken place.

This should not be taken as a blanket indictment of Texas day cares, only an endorsement of legislative efforts to ensure that all operators abide by a standardized and enforceable set of rules – every time. We applaud the overwhelming majority of day care operations that provide a loving, nurturing and educational environment for the children with whom they are entrusted.

“The majority of child care operators and specialists realize the importance of this, but there is still a small contingent of providers who are resistant to any kind of change,” Melanie Rubin, director of the Dallas Early Education Alliance, said in our story.

Parents across West Texas and the state drop off their children at day care centers every day. They deserve peace of mind and confidence that their youngsters will be kept safe, given attention and treated compassionately every day.

Beyond that, they should also know there are serious and immediate consequences for that small minority of operators who do not do these things.

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