A still-grieving mother recounted the tragic death of her infant son at an unlicensed child care center as she pleaded Tuesday with Missouri lawmakers to limit the number of children that can be watched at home day cares.
Shelley Blecha has tried for several years now to change a Missouri law that exempts relatives of caregivers from being counted toward requirements for state licensure. Legislation titled “Nathan’s Law” – in remembrance of her son – would require licensure for anyone watching more than four children younger than school age, so long as they are being paid for caring for at least one of those children.
On the day 3-month-old Nathan Blecha died in June 2007 – after suffocating on soft bedding – his child care provider had 10 children in the home, including four relatives, Blecha told lawmakers. That number of children could have required licensure even under Missouri’s current standards.
“I researched what I thought was the best day care for my son. I would never have dropped my children off at anything I didn’t think was the highest quality,” Blecha told the House Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee. “Unfortunately, that just wasn’t good enough.”
The committee did not vote on the legislation Tuesday.
The Legislature last year passed a bill – titled “Sam Pratt’s Law,” after another infant who died in child care – that allows judges to bar people from operating child care centers while child abuse or neglect charges are pending against them. The 2012 law also raised fines for violating child care laws. But “Nathan’s Law” was left out of the final version of the measure because of opposition.
Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, testified against “Nathan’s Law” again Tuesday. He said it could make criminals out of good-hearted people who watch children for friends in need.
“If you’re going to care for someone else’s children as a Good Samaritan, you’re going to have to have a department come in and tell you, `You have to bring a construction crew in and start widening doorways, widen hallways, you have to go to a $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 expense to remodel your home. You have to do all these things to meet all these technical details of a licensed facility,’” Messer said.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis area Democrat, who showed committee members copies of coroners’ reports that she said documented deaths of young children in child care. She said even good-intentioned caregivers cannot adequately watch too many children, which is why she believes the caregivers’ own young children or grandchildren should count toward the minimum threshold for licensure.
“Whether the child is related to the caregiver or not, each child matters, each child deserves attention,” she said.