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Opinion: A new era of child care has come to Missouri and we should embrace it

On June 26, 2007, then 3-month-old Nathan Blecha was being cared for in a child care home near Arnold when it was time for his nap. He was put to sleep lying face down and against a plastic pad in the bottom of the crib. After being left unattended for several hours, young Nathan suffocated and sadly passed away.

Now, more than 10 years later, Governor Parson has officially signed for Nathan’s Law. It is a pivotal moment for Missouri’s young children and families like Nathan’s who have already lost so much.

How does something like this happen under the watch of a child care provider?

It happens when a provider is caring for nine other children at the same time. It happens when a provider does not know proper safe sleep practices, CPR for children, or other safety procedures. It happens when we neglect the workforce designated to care for our youngest and most vulnerable population. It happens when the child care provider is unlicensed and unregulated, left unchecked and practically invisible within the system.

Nathan’s Law, sponsored by State Senator Jill Schupp [D-Creve Coeur] and passed with unanimous support from both parties, aims for less unlicensed, unsafe child care and more licensed, safe child care.

  • It limits the total number of children being watched in unlicensed child care to just six related or unrelated, with no more than three children under the age of two.
  • Any provider caring for more than six children, related or unrelated, will be required to be licensed by Missouri.
  • The law also creates a “Family Child Care Provider Fund” to support providers by disseminating information on child care facility laws, implementing educational initiatives, and providing financial assistance based on the need for family child care homes to become licensed.

But the passage of Nathan’s Law is more than a step forward. It is also a symbol of an important shift happening in Missouri right now toward increased access to safe, high-quality care for our young children.

There are many more initiatives underway to strengthen child care services throughout the state. For example, in an effort to improve the quality of all licensed child care programs in the state, significant safety modifications in child care licensing standards will go into effect next month for the first time since 1991. And last March, Governor Parson formed a new task force to study the state’s child care regulations after a horrific incident of abuse in St. Louis.

At the federal level, Senator Roy Blunt’s leadership has also helped to provide important resources. Last year, the Senate Labor-H Appropriations Subcommittee, of which Senator Blunt serves as Chair, more than doubled discretionary funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which supports states in their efforts to provide high-quality, safe child care to families. This meant $40 million more for Missouri in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019! The additional funding has gone toward a variety of safety and quality initiatives for child care in Missouri. For example, implementing comprehensive background checks, providing increased professional development for the child care workforce, and along with Missouri’s Preschool Development Grant, known as Stronger Together Missouri, supporting the development and implementation of a statewide quality assurance system for all child care providers.

Our current leaders, at both the state and national level, have demonstrated a commitment to providing safe, quality child care opportunities for Missouri families. We at Child Care Aware®️ of Missouri applaud their leadership and encourage them to continue securing resources for the state to make and sustain these important changes.

The rewards are huge for Missouri families. It will mean better brain development in safer child care settings for children in the first two thousand days. It will mean increased access to quality care for children, no matter the income level or ZIP codes of their parents. And it will mean families can go to work knowing their infant or toddler is in a safe, nurturing environment with a supported and supportive child care workforce.

This is what Shelley Blecha, Nathan’s mother, and her family has been fighting for. Finally, just over 10 years after Nathan’s untimely passing, Nathan’s Law is signed.

“We have fought hard and for many years for the passage of Nathan’s Law,” she said. “We hope this law will prevent another family from enduring the pain of losing their child in overcrowded child care like we did.”