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New law tightens day-care regulations

Gov. Lawton Chiles has signed a controversial new law that toughens state regulation of day-care providers, including requiring them to have more specialized training and larger facilities. The new law, which Chiles signed Friday, has been hailed by supporters as an improvement long overdue. But it has angered some day-care operators who say the changes will virtually wipe out commercial infant care.

Commercial providers have until Oct. 1, 1992, to comply with one of the bill's most sensitive facets: setting the ratio between children and their supervisors.

Under existing regulations, one staff member may care for six babies younger than 1. The new law says one adult may supervise no more than four infants. Ratios also are more stringent for children through age 3.

Specific training credentials also will be required, as will the amount of usable floor space in a day-care center.

Commercial centers will be required to have at least 35 square feet of floor space per child when the new law takes effect in 1992, up from the current requirement of 20 square feet of space per child.

Day-care sites in operation before the law becomes effective will be grandfathered and will not have to comply with the new square-footage requirements, said Bob Barrios, chief legislative analyst for the House Health and Rehabilitative Services Committee. They will have to comply with other new regulations, however.

The law also budgets money to help establish required training programs for day-care providers.

The funds "will provide outside providers such as a community college or a child-care central agency the money to establish those training programs," said Barrios.

Money also will be used to more fairly reimburse providers who take children whose care must be subsidized, Barrios said.

Non-commercial providers, generally called family day-care homes, also must make some changes, such as proving that their charges have been immunized and providing a written plan naming a substitute adult in an emergency.

Home providers that don't comply by this Oct. 1 could face a fine.

Family day-care homes now are allowed five children to each adult. They must be licensed if they are in a county requiring it or if they care for children from the subsidized child-care program.

All others must at least be registered with the state. None of that will change under the new law.

Barrios acknowledges that policing the new rules for family day-care sites won't be easy, but he said the law puts teeth into the state's ability to take punitive measures against violators.

"There's really no systematic way to get every family day-care home registered," he said. "It's up to the home or a parent to let HRS know."