By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
A new study by the child-advocate group VOICES for Alabama Children puts the number of unregulated child care centers increasing in Alabama if laws remain the same.
The organization released their 2017 data book, “Alabama Kids Count,” which tracks changes in child welfare through the years. The data book is a compilation of data collected by the organization from various Alabama agencies.
The study looked at unregulated day care centers, which were a hot topic in the 2017 legislative session. The data book said Alabama is one of only seven states that still allow for “broad-based exemptions” for day care centers.
The study projected that if the exemptions remained, unregulated child care in Alabama could make up 63 percent of all day cares by 2027.
Currently, there are 956 unregulated day care centers in Alabama. Their exemption status allows them to not be required to conduct background checks on employees, training in CPR and inspections by state agencies for safety and health standards, according to VOICES for Alabama Children.
The group supported legislation in the 2017 Alabama Legislative Session to make all day cares in the state regulated. While it passed the Alabama House of Representatives, it couldn’t pass the Senate due to opposition from a few Republican senators.
The conservative group, Eagle Forum of Alabama, opposed the bill and released a statement regarding child care earlier this month. They expressed sympathy for Kamden Johnson, a child killed under the care of an unregulated day care center in August.
The group said the bill introduced in the Legislature wouldn’t have improved child care in Alabama and expressed concerns about regulation of religious-based day cares.
“Eagle Forum of Alabama rejects the falsehood that child safety and religious liberty are mutually exclusive,” their statement said. “Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that current child safety laws are sufficient if they are enforced by the proper authorities.”
The latest version of the bill that died on the Senate floor in May included an amendment to protect religious-based day cares.
State Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, confirmed to The Alabama Political Reporter in August that the bill would come back for the 2018 Legislative Session.
The study also looked at other areas in child welfare around Alabama. In a statement from VOICES for Alabama children, they said the results were “mixed.”
The study said there are some indicators that are “areas of concern” in Alabama.
There are 27 percent of children living in poverty in Alabama, almost one-third of children in Alabama are considered overweight or obese and 49 percent of 20-year-old and under citizens are on SNAP – food stamp benefits.
In the areas of child health care, Pre-K program enrollment and child death rate, Alabama Kids Count noted “significant improvements.” The organization said teenage births between the ages of 15 to 17 are at historical lows.
According to the study, 96 percent of children in Alabama are covered under some health care, 28 percent of 4-year-old children were enrolled in Pre-K programs for this fall and 24.5 per 100,000 children died in Alabama. The historical lows for teenage births from age 15 to 17 rates decreased 48 percent since 2005.
Melanie Bridgeforth, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, said all Alabamians must play a role in child welfare and said the study is a “roadmap for what we need to do to improve the lives of Alabama’s children.”
“One thing is abundantly clear: The overall state of child well-being in Alabama is brighter today than it was 25 years ago when VOICES for Alabama’s Children began,” Bridgeforth said. “However, as we embark on the next 25 years, the list of issues affecting children remains long.”