Abuse in Early Childhood Education Settings in Prince George’s County
The original version of this blog was posted on August 19, 2016. Very shortly thereafter, I received an email from the State’s expert on licensing who clarified that the Head Start program in Prince George’s County was not regulated by MSDE; because it is administered through the local school system, it is not subject to State requirements. On August 20, 2016, I rewrote the blog to make that clear. I apologize to readers for misleading them on this point, and I thank all the hardworking Maryland licensing staff who not only work with providers to make sure child care is safe and healthy for children but also read my blog!
Like most parents, I read with shock, horror, disgust, and worry about the punishment of children in a few regulated early care and education settings in Prince George’s County. This is a parent’s nightmare: not knowing that your child is receiving harsh and developmentally inappropriate treatment at the hands of adults to whom you’ve entrusted him or her. Fortunately the abuses covered by the recent Washington Post article were discovered through a monitoring process and made known in a public report issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services because they involved a federally-funded Head Start program. One can’t help but wonder how prevalent this kind of wanton, damaging disrespect for children and their needs is in settings that aren’t monitored as closely or, more worrisome, aren’t monitored at all, as is the case with unregulated, often illegal child care.
In Maryland, child care is, in most cases, regulated by the State Department of Education (MSDE). However, in the Prince George’s case, the programs were operated under the auspices of the Prince George’s County Public School System and therefore exempt from State licensure. They did not receive MSDE’s annual inspections. Head Start programs run by school systems in Maryland only receive outside review through the federal review process.
We are lucky to have high standards for licensing family- and center-based child care in Maryland. There are required background checks and training requirements for staff, and there are annual inspections by the State. When done right, child care programs are built on a strengths-based, relationship-centered approach to services and meet the full range of a child’s needs, and a family’s needs, too, to the extent possible. Good child care nurtures healthy attachments between provider and child and can positively influence the relationship between parent and child. Good child care programs are necessary not only for healthy child development but also for strong families and vibrant communities.
But as the recent incidents demonstrate, even in regulated care things can go wrong. There are steps parents can take to ensure the safety of their children. Maryland Family Network, under contract to MSDE, offers a service called LOCATE: Child Care. Parents can go on line (www.marylandfamilynetwork.org) or call a referral specialist [(877) 261-0060] who can help identify safe child care including what to look for, how to interview providers to find the best fit for the family, and how to monitor the program throughout the time your child is there. This free service is available for all families regardless of income. LOCATE also fields concerns about current care conditions. Complaints that involve any threat to the health, safety or welfare of a child should be immediately conveyed to MSDE’s Office of Child Care for the region, and, in certain circumstances, to the Child Protective Services division of the local Department of Social Services. LOCATE can help guide families in accessing these systems.
More tips for parents are available at www.marylandfamilynetwork.org.