Houston Chronicle - July 29, 2016
by Andrea Zelinski
AUSTIN – The new commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services quietly has rejected requests to reduce the ratio of children to caregivers at licensed day care centers.
Children's advocacy groups and the public have clamored for the department to shrink group sizes to boost learning and increase safety, but the department said it will maintain the current standards to keep day care affordable and prevent families from moving their children to cheaper, unregulated providers.
"We have a real fear that if day care operations must hire more employees to comply with new state mandates, working families with infants and small children may seek out unregulated day care – and in those settings children are more likely to be injured, or worse," DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. "It is not worth the risk."
State code requires the division of Child Care Licensing to review its rules every six years. Existing standards require licensed child care centers to limit each adult to: four babies under 1 year; five children ages 12 to 17 months; nine children ages 18 to 23 months; 11 2-year-olds; 15 3-year-olds; 18 4-year-olds; or 22 5-year-olds.
Texas has some of the highest child care ratios in the nation, according to Child Care Aware of America's 2013 state ranking. For example, only Texas and Georgia allow child care centers to staff two adults to more than 26 3-year-old children at a time. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends two adults to 18 3-year-olds.
"Unfortunately, our current standards undermine both safety and early learning," said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, a children's policy organization advocating for smaller ratios. "When a child care teacher is on her own with 11 2-year-olds, she's more likely to overlook the kid wandering away with scissors and less likely to sit down to read and discuss 'Goodnight Moon' with them."
Public comment collected by the department in 2015 included numerous calls for smaller group sizes to take the pressure off caregivers and increase child safety. Others worried changes would lead to hiring more teachers and passing the costs on to families.
The decision to not change the ratios came from new DFPS Commissioner Henry "Hank" Wittman, a former chief of the Texas Rangers appointed to the position this spring. In a July 22 memorandum to members of the DFPS Council Wittman wrote that after "weighing the impact to providers and families, DFPS is maintaining the subchapter on ratios and group sizes as they are currently written."