A new law set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, is aiming to increase the safety of all children in child care facilities.
“It’s probably the most surprising thing that I’ve encountered since I’ve been here,” said Bobby Cagle, commissioner of Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care and Learning. “As soon as I identified it, then we set in motion the beginnings of the discussions that needed to occur with providers and others in order to be able to put this into law.”
The law was passed by the Georgia legislature earlier this year and requires all child care facility employees to go through a national fingerprint-based background check prior to being hired. All new employees must go through that check, and all existing employees must have it done by 2017.
The cost of the background check and fingerprint service must be paid by either the job applicant or employer, Cagle said.
“That kind of varies from locale to locale, whether the sheriff’s department or local police department wants to charge for that,” he said. “There is an increased cost on the provider’s side.”
Cagle added that his department understands many child care providers are “barely meeting payroll,” one of the reasons why they have until 2017 for current employees to get the checks done.
“This business is not extremely profitable,” he said. “We are very much aware of providers who are barely making it from one month to the next.”
There are around 60,000 child care employees in Georgia; about 20,000 are expected to go through the background check procedure this first year. The department said there’s a 30 percent turnover rate in the industry, so it’s likely many employees will go through the process when changing jobs.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who carried the bill from the state House to the Senate, said he was surprised to find a fingerprint background check was not required previously.
“It’s a common sense, low-cost piece of legislation that will protect our most vulnerable members of our society,” Miller said.
Cagle said the new rule is being well-received by child care providers.
“It was a negotiated process, to say the least,” he said. “We went through ... hours and hours and hours of discussions with individual providers, provider associations and legislators. I think we came to a good approach to do this.”
Miller agreed, adding that he had first heard this was a problem by day care providers.
“I do believe that this is one of the most important child safety laws that the state has enacted in many years,” Cagle said.
The Department of Early Care and Learning will hold two public hearings for the new law: Wednesday in Albany and Thursday in Augusta.
For more information, visit www.decal.ga.gov.