Proposed regulations and changes to licensing and zoning processes could place stress on Fairfax County in-home day care providers.
Approximately 200 childcare providers and parents packed into the board auditorium at Fairfax County Government Center Monday night for a two-hour town hall meeting hosted by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey.
Attendees were able to provide input and learn more about the changes, which Chairman Sharon Bulova .
Virginia state licenses allow for a maximum of 12 children per day care center. But Fairfax County only allows for seven per single-family home, or 10 with a special permit. Townhouses, apartments and mobile homes are allowed five children.
Many in-home day care providers are now worried that zoning ordinances will force them to lower the number of children they are allowed to take in; others are intimidated by a $1,100 nonrefundable filing fee for a special permit to allow more children – a permit they aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get.
Tereena Ford Jones, a county-licensed provider for 20 years, said these new regulations would make running her business difficult, and that the county had to raise the number of children allowed in townhomes and apartments.
“A lot of us are raising our families on this business,” she said. “It takes away from the simplicity of just inviting children into your home and providing a service for parents who want to have their child safe. We’re not baby sitters anymore. We’re pre-school.”
The county’s Department of Planning and Zoning must now sign off when providers renew their state licenses, or new providers get their first state license, in accordance with a new Virginia Department of Social Services requirement.
County staff is currently drafting an amendment to consider raising the number of children in a facility with a special permit from 10 to 12 while lowering the $1,100 fee, but it might take several months.
“There is a shortage of licensed providers and I don’t want to see that number shrink because of unnecessary regulation,” Herrity said in his opening remarks.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s reduced,” Herrity said later in the town hall. “I want you to know that current state-licensed child care providers will be given a grace period and will not be required to drop any children until the review of the zoning process is completed,” he said.
Felicia Kleinfelt, a parent who works sporadic hours and relies on flexible home-based day-care, worried that her kids would be at risk.
“If children are going to get cut, then that puts my children on the chopping block … to make more room for full time children,” she said. “It puts me in a position where I will either have to stop working or I’ll be basically paying to work, which doesn’t make any sense either. These are tough economic times and we do need to have flexibility so that people can have adequate child care. “
Frey said that the special permit allowed the county to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
“We don’t allow many businesses in residentially zoned properties,” he said. “Childcare is one that is allowed in certain instances and up to certain numbers. … While there are locations where perhaps 12 children might be appropriate, there are certainly residential areas where 12 is not.”
The county’s Office for Children has also proposed amending a series of regulations, including criminal offenses that could prevent people from getting a license, and an annual 16 hours of training that would be phased in over three years.