Magazine article Policy & Practice

Wisconsin's Modernization Efforts in Child Care Regulation

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Wisconsin's Modernization Efforts in Child Care Regulation

Article excerpt

Wisconsin recently implemented two significant child care regulation modernization efforts that have improved quality of service for the providers and enhanced the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) mission to protect the health, safety, and welfare of children.

Fingerprint-based background checks are now conducted for child care providers, employees, and non-client residents of regulated child care centers in response to a new state law aimed at improving child care quality for low-income families. In most cases, these fingerprints are taken and stored electronically, significantly reducing the number of rejected prints and the turnaround time for results. While it wasn't known at the time, this effort brought Wisconsin closer to meeting the criminal background check requirements of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Reauthorization Act of 2014. Another initiative involved the development, training, and deployment of a custom iPad application that replaced a 45-page paper checklist used to document child care inspection visit results. The app has already provided notable improvements to the regulatory process that has benefitted both licensing staff and child care providers.

Requirements and Oversight for Child Care Centers

In Wisconsin, a child care license is required to provide care to four or more children under the age of 7. DCF is responsible for the oversight and administration of licensing family child care centers (caring for up to eight children), group child care centers (caring for nine or more children), and day camps. DCF also is responsible for the oversight of child care certification, which regulates child care providers not caring for a licensable number of children and has lesser requirements. DCF currently contracts with 71 county agencies and eight tribes to administer child care certification. All child care providers receiving subsidized child care payments are required to be licensed or certified (except public school programs) and the provider must be participating in YoungStar, the state's quality rating and improvement system.

Fingerprint-Based Background Checks

Wisconsin requires licensed child care providers to conduct background checks on their employees and review the results to determine employment eligibility. A background check unit of three full-time employees within DCF is responsible for conducting background checks on applicants, licensees, and non-client residents. For certified programs, the certifying agency conducts the background checks for all required individuals, including employees and volunteers, and makes the determination if the individual is eligible to have regular, direct contact with children in care.

This multi-entity division of responsibility makes implementing changes to background check requirements a little more challenging. In July 2013, Wisconsin passed a law requiring a one-time fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check for child care providers, employees, and non-client residents if the center receives or wishes to receive child care subsidy payments.

Successful implementation of this initiative required a significant amount of collaboration between multiple state agencies, certifying agencies, child care providers, the FBI, and the state-contracted fingerprint capture vendor Fieldprint. This collaborative effort led to obtaining the necessary approvals from the FBI for each entity to receive the criminal search results, developing interfaces between the child care IT system and Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) and Fieldprint, and additional IT system enhancements to automate as much of the process as possible. Without the ability to add positions for this initiative, the IT automation enhancements were critical to minimize the increased workload.

The rollout of this fingerprint initiative began in May 2014 and provides currently regulated child care programs receiving or wishing to receive subsidized child care payments until December 31, 2015, to fully comply with the law. …

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