‘It’s about the kids’: Cedar City attorney speaks out in favor of childcare workers – St George News | Directory Mayhem

CEDAR CITY — A local childcare worker recently spoke to Cedar City Council to make things better for business owners like her, as council members approved a “helpful” ordinance change.

Kristy DeGraaf at Learning Tree Childcare and Preschool, Cedar City, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool

On August 10, the Cedar City Council approved an amendment to Chapter 26, Article 9 to adjust how square footage is calculated for childcare providers at home.

Assistant City Attorney Randall McUne said that while the state controls most items related to home day care, the city has enacted ordinances for where they are allowed to do so.

One such ordinance limited the number of children that could be cared for in the home to a maximum of 16, based on the square footage of the building’s ground floor. This means that in an apartment building, the number of children cared for does not increase with the additional space.

In contrast, the state allows the total square footage of the home to be included in the calculation, but subtracts the space occupied by closets, bookshelves, refrigerators and other common household items, McUne said.

The ordinance change is a compromise, McUne said, that would allow vendors to calculate the square footage of two floors, making the ordinance more on par with that of the state, without requiring the building department to measure the furniture.

Day care centers face challenges

Kristy DeGraaf, owner of Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool, spoke to the council at the August 3 working session. The 15-year-old child care veteran said she appreciated the council’s efforts to improve conditions for providers.

Children participating in an outdoor activity at Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool, Cedar City, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool

DeGraaf has worked with various lawmakers to “improve support for child care providers across the state.” She said that while the field is challenging, one of the top four reasons the Erikson Institute has found providers leaving the field is systems that “don’t recognize the strengths and unique challenges of family childcare.”

In a 2021 multi-state study on declining family childcare availability published by the Erikson Institute, researchers examined “profound factors” behind educators’ decisions to enter, stay, or leave the field.

“The results show that unfair systems for (family) educators at all stages of their careers presented a number of challenges that contributed to educators dropping out,” the report says.

Utah is a “childcare desert,” meaning availability is scarce, DeGraaf said. Because of this, she proposed ideas for the Utah House Bill 15, which Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law in March, to address key vendor issues based on her experience and that of others, particularly in Cedar City.

Child plays with blocks at Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool, Cedar City, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool

She described cases of local providers trying to obtain business licenses for their childcare programs, who found the city and state’s “extra requirements” too onerous. Some of these programs were never opened.

“It’s a nationwide problem,” she says. “And it absolutely limits the availability and accessibility of childcare.”

DeGraaf suggested the council align the city’s requirements with those of the state so that providers “are not faced with additional arbitrary requirements imposed by committees or councils that do not have a background in child development or child care programs.”

Providers are already required to meet “thorough” requirements established by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Child Care, DeGraaf said.

She said when these barriers prevent programs from opening or require them to serve fewer customers, “it pushes children into unlicensed and unregulated care.” Such programs are not overseen by regulatory authorities and owners are often untrained.

In contrast, licensed providers are required to have background checks, first aid and CPR certifications and training, DeGraaf said in an interview with Cedar City News.

Archive image | Photo by Daria Nipot/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St George News

“So if you are concerned about the health and safety of children, I urge you to consider ways of not creating additional barriers and actually breaking down some of the barriers that are already in place,” she said.

For example, DeGraaf told the council that Cedar City requires vendors to have a six-foot fence around their yards, while the state requires four feet, imposing “significant costs” on those in block wall neighborhoods.

Daycare centers used to be required to have a minimum of five parking spaces, which many providers struggled with, since most homes in Cedar City have a maximum of four parking spaces, McUne said. DeGraaf said the state doesn’t have a parking requirement.

“And so we had a lot of daycare centers that suddenly had to go to another parking lot,” he said.

The requirements were changed a few years ago so that homes accommodating up to eight children would need two places and those up to 16 four, McUne said.

“The only other complaint we had was that parents don’t use those parking lots anyway and just parked them on the street,” he said.

Child painting at Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool, Cedar City, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Learning Tree Child Care and Preschool

Additionally, DeGraaf said that some child caregivers who approached the Board of Adjustments to open a program were met with protests from their neighbors.

“I’ve seen more than once entire neighborhoods come out to berate and protest a child care program because they feared it would somehow ruin the neighborhood,” she said. “Whereas research actually shows that high-quality programs pay off to communities in better mental and physical health, less crime, and better academic outcomes.”

DeGraaf told Cedar City News that one of the “biggest challenges” for vendors is that they “get engrossed in the work they do every day, especially those who work from home because they do everything.” have to.

“If you’re in a center ideally you have a director and an assistant director and an administrator and someone who does the food program and the janitor – you have a lot of people to help you,” she said.

While DeGraaf said staff at centers are still underpaid, family nannies do all the work themselves, including maintenance and janitorial work, and many work 60 to 70 hours a week.

Because of this, many vendors lack the time and resources needed to do the advocacy work, DeGraaf said, adding that “someone has to speak for the people who are actually doing the work.”

“It’s about the kids at the end of the day, isn’t it? But if we don’t take good care of their caregivers, the children will suffer and we are doing the children in our community a disservice,” she said.

removing barriers

DeGraaf said the ordinance change would be “helpful” because some vendors were buying larger homes expecting to use the entire basement but because of the way square footage was calculated, the number of children they care for allowed, declined.

Stick for illustration, date and place not given | Photo of
Lordn/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St George News

“Which just didn’t make sense,” she said.

Councilor R. Scott Phillips asked if DeGraaf would be willing to work with the city over the next few months to improve childcare needs.

“We want it to be safe,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s a good environment for neighbors, childcare and parents, but I think we’d be open to hearing ideas to make it better.”

DeGraaf said Cedar is “not the worst city in the state” and that some others have “significantly more barriers.”

“So I think it’s an opportunity for us to step up and say, ‘Let’s do what we can to support families in our communities,'” she said. “And this is a family-centric community with so many children. And… Most people with children need childcare, and it needs to be accessible and… high quality, and when providers are so focused on all these different barriers that they have to overcome. It becomes very difficult for them to create these high quality environments.”

Councilor Tyler Melling said the state’s regulations are “onerous” and he would approve the change with the understanding that the city will continue to work to improve the situation with DeGraaf.

This file photo shows Cedar City Council members (right to left) Ron Riddle, Tyler Melling, R. Scott Phillips, Craig Isom and Teri Hartley, Cedar City, Utah, February 23, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Additionally, Melling said the Utah law is trying to “get cities and counties out of the business of regulating day care.”

Melling said he would like to change the city’s ordinances to make them more dependent on government requirements “to the extent possible so that when they change, we’re automatically compliant.”

Ultimately, DeGraaf said she would ideally like the regulations to require vendors to only follow state licensing guidelines that are “really comprehensive” and remove additional barriers.

“And really support quality care and make our job a little bit easier instead of more complicated,” she said.

The entire discussion and approval of the ordinance amendment can be viewed on Cedar City Council’s YouTube channel. Click here for the working meeting and here for the action meeting.

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