During the coronavirus pandemic, about 20 private, temporary and unregulated day care facilities have opened up in Tennessee, mostly in churches and community centers. The Tennessee Department of Human Services says it won’t be enforcing its typical standards at the fill-in locations.
The idea of allowing such facilities came from Gov. Bill Lee, who has encouraged the community to step up and help with child care needs. He initially announced it via an executive order earlier this month.
“We have great needs and families are faced with great dilemmas around the issues that present when schools are closed and their children come home,” Lee said in a recent press conference. He asked for churches to help to “alleviate the burden.”
The new operations are meant to be helpful in small pockets across the state.
To make it easier to operate, the state said it is waiving most of the steps that a child care facility would go through to open. Instead, TDHS is offering suggestions about appropriate caregiver-to-children ratios, age groupings and accountability and safety procedures.
“We have asked organizations to register with TDHS and encouraged them to follow our suggestions, but this is voluntary,” the department told WPLN News.
The guidance document, which appears on the agency’s website, requires organizations to submit background checks on caregivers. But TDHS is not conducting inspections and isn’t asking for any paperwork.
“At the end of the day, this is an emergency situation,” the agency said. “Some communities have child care needs that cannot be met by traditional licensed care in this current situation and we have to trust that these organizations are going to follow the rules and guidelines that we are providing them.”
Full-time facilities typically see about four to six site visits a year, depending on the agency’s star rating.
The state acknowledges that parents will have to decide whether they are comfortable placing a child in a temporary, unlicensed facility.
As of Friday afternoon, 21 temporary child care facilities have started in the state.
Sky Arnold, a spokesman with TDHS, told WPLN News on Friday that they ask those who register with the state for some basic information, such as an address. He said the state is keeping track of them through a spreadsheet.
On Monday afternoon, Lee defended the decision to relax regulations around child care facilities. He told reporters that because it’s an emergency, the state is addressing the issues with the “solutions that we think best address the crisis.”
“We’ll have hundreds of facilities open up in a very short period of time to take care of the needs for child care across our state,” Lee said. “The capacity to test those is impossible.”