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Licensing of babysitters may change

Rules governing whether a babysitter needs a license in Pinellas County may soon undergo significant change.

The Pinellas County License Board for Children's Centers and Family Day Care Homes has been scrutinizing its rules in response to a well-publicized case involving a Seminole mom who was told she needed a license to care for the children of friends, even if she did it for free.

Last week, a board committee recommended changes to rules that wouldn't affect that mom but would potentially affect thousands of Pinellas residents.

Among recommendations:

+ Anyone babysitting children from just one household wouldn't need a license, even if caring for multiple children from the same home. A license would be required only if a babysitter regularly cared for unrelated children from two or more households.

Currently, Pinellas residents need a license if babysitting even one child.

+ Time requirements would be eliminated. Currently, babysitters don't need a license if the care is under two hours a day or just once a week for any length of time. Under the new recommendation, even caring for children five minutes once a week can require the need for a license.

+ Licenses would not be generally required to care for children over 13 years old. The age cutoff is currently 17.

"I think it would be a big change for the community," said Linda Tamanini, executive director of the agency.

The board will consider the changes at its next regular meeting on Feb. 4. If the board doesn't object to the recommendations, public hearings will be scheduled and a final vote by the board will be taken perhaps by the end of the summer, Tamanini said.

The changes won't help Laurie McPherson, the Seminole mother of two who ran afoul of Pinellas rules because she frequently cared for friends' children for free without the required license.

"They're taking responsibility for every child in Pinellas County, and that's not their job," said McPherson, whose case generated national publicity. "Their job is not to protect my children. That's my job. It shouldn't be their business."

Rules don't affect relatives babysitting relatives. So a grandmother caring for grandchildren isn't affected.

And traditional babysitters who go to a home and care for a child under the child's own roof have never been regulated by the board.