Leslie Baker owns five child care programs in Norfolk. She testified before the Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on LR191, which is examining the fingerprinting background check process for Nebraska child care providers.
I own Fits & Giggles, LLC, which serves 98 children in the Norfolk area with four Family Child Care Home II programs and one center-based setting. All five licensed programs accept the child care subsidy, also known as Title 20 or “state pay.” Some of the programs I own participate in Step Up to Quality, Nebraska’s quality rating and improvement system for child care, with two of those programs at Step 5, the highest quality level. We also get involved in many other initiatives, community events, committees and training opportunities to go above base requirements as we strive to implement best practices for the benefit of children in our care.
I’ve worked in the early childhood field since age 16 in various capacities ranging from cook to teaching positions, director positions and my current role as owner of the businesses I’ve built. I also am an early childhood coach and consultant.
My business provides a vital service for children in the Norfolk area who need quality care and education, and serves as an option for families who decide one of the programs I offer is best for them. I serve families all across the spectrum—from single mothers and fathers who need to work to provide for their children to families who need both parents in the workforce and others who decide the quality early learning experiences my business offers provide the best option for their children.
Providers across the state affected
I have experienced significant hardships with the state’s background check process, which impacts not only myself as a business owner, but my staff and the families I serve. While I am just one child care owner, my experience with the background check process is common across all types of child care settings and areas of the state.
The director of my programs, as well as many others in our area struggle to manage their role effectively when so much time is dedicated to the process of hiring. Currently, this process can be confusing because there have been conflicting instructions and an inability to easily access the necessary forms. Even when looking through the updated regulations, which have been very helpful, the entire process, including where to obtain forms and how to submit this information, is not clearly outlined.
It varies widely, but it is not uncommon for the process to take one month for the eligibility application and fingerprinting. Some may take two weeks just for confirmation that they are eligible, while others have taken nearly two months for fingerprinting and eligibility. The problems are not just with processing time through the Department of Health and Human Services. I have heard of other providers who waited two weeks to get a fingerprinting appointment with the Nebraska State Patrol or had to drive 100 miles for an appointment.
Lost potential child care candidates
I personally have lost multiple highly qualified and sought-after potential teachers when I notify them, upon hiring, that the background check can take weeks and they will not be allowed to begin working with children until this unspecified amount of time for the check process is complete. In our experience it has varied from 2 to 8 weeks. To retain the integrity of our honest business practices and hiring process, we disclose that to applicants.
Other surprising and sad details have been shared with me by other home providers and center directors who have been faced with staff shortages that threaten their business operations. When they cannot wait the required time for the eligibility letters to be returned, some are allowing providers to start prior to the process being completed. These scenarios mean we have people caring for our most vulnerable Nebraska children without any sort of background check or certification at all.
Already high turnover rate
Early childhood is a field with an already high turnover rate, and many will confirm the single most detrimental thing to our field is the lack of an effective workforce. We cannot afford to lose anyone who wants to work in child care to a job in another industry because they are seeking immediate employment.
I am not alone in the challenges my business and families have faced due to delays in the fingerprinting process. There would be no shortage of stories if state senators asked any child care provider in their district. The Health and Human Services Department and the State Patrol have certainly heard these stories, and I am grateful that they are working to address it administratively. The changes they make will have a positive impact on Nebraskans and the vitality of their communities.