by Christina Kang
California legislators are considering a bill that would mandate visits to foster homes on an annual basis in a state that currently ranks as one of the most lax on childcare facility inspections.
Assembly Bill 74, introduced in January, would require annual inspections of community care facilities, such as foster care homes, childcare centers, family daycare homes and others starting July 1, 2018, rather than inspections once every five years as per current law. A national survey by Child Care Aware of America in 2013 found that California is one of the worst-performing states in frequency of visits to assess the quality of childcare and other community-care facilities.
Prior to 2002, the state’s Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) performed comprehensive visits to family childcare centers once every three years, and annually for all other community care centers. Due to several years of state budget cuts the inspection frequency was reduced to once every five years.
“Once every five years is not frequent enough,” said Kelsy Castillo, a senior legislative aide to Assemblymember Ian Calderon (D), the bill’s author. “It’s a matter of public safety, and we’re behind other states. New York and other big states undergo inspections at least once a year.”
California fell in the bottom 10 states in program requirements and oversight of childcare facilities, according to the in the 2013 Child Care Aware of America survey. The state was one of only nine that do not require an inspection at least once a year.
Castillo emphasized that parents are at the frontline of this issue.
“Parents want to place their children in the licensed facility with a regular inspection, but the current once every five years inspection does not guarantee that,” she said. “A one-time bad incident can be the pattern that would emerge if it’s not frequently inspected.”
AB 74 was re-introduced this year after it failed to make it out of the Senate Budget Committee in 2014.
If the bill is signed into law, all California community care centers, except foster care homes, will be subject to annual unannounced inspections by CCLD starting on July 1, 2018. Foster care homes will be inspected with annual announced visits.
There is an argument to be made that foster homes should be treated differently from other community care facilities because they are private family homes, not commercial institutions. The money a foster family receives is a reimbursement for caring for the child, so the inspection policy should be specific to that arrangement and the family should not be disrupted by unannounced visits.
Unannounced visits to foster homes are usually conducted only in cases when a foster care license is in probation, in response to complaints, or a facility compliance plan states the necessity of annual inspections.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently released a budget proposal for 2015-2016 that indicated a budget increase for the Department of Social Services (DSS) and recommended adjustments to improve CCLD programs. Calderon welcomed the proposal on his website, saying it is “a step towards the right direction”.
“Our bill and the budget proposals, however, are a bit different,” Castillo said. “Governor Brown’s bill proposes annual unannounced inspections to community care facilities except childcare facilities, which is to be inspected every three years, by 2019. Our main goal is to push conducting annual inspections to all California community care facilities, including childcare facilities.”
Christina Kang is a graduate student of public policy at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this story as a student in the school’s Media for Policy Change class.