Non-Regulatory Model - Connecticut14
In 2007, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH) created its Child Care Screening Assessment for Environmental Risk (SAFER) Program, available at: www.ct.gov/dph/saferExternal. The SAFER Program finds child care facilities on or near properties where the presence of hazardous chemicals could harm children. It also strives to raise awareness at the state and local level about safe child care siting. CT DPH’s Environmental and Occupational Health Assessment (EOHA) Program15 created the SAFER Program to prevent occurrences similar to the Kiddie Kollege incident (see Chapter 2 for details) from happening in Connecticut. The SAFER Program is a partnership between EOHA and the Division of Licensing within the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC)16. The Division of Licensing is responsible for regulating child care programs in Connecticut.
Connecticut’s SAFER Program is non-regulatory, meaning that no specific regulations mandate that the program exists or that its recommendations be implemented. Connecticut chose to pursue a non-regulatory approach because it was quicker and easier to implement than establishing new regulations, and the approach provided more flexibility than a regulatory program. Connecticut determined that a non-regulatory program also would require a smaller investment of resources to initiate and maintain than a regulatory approach would require. Additionally, Connecticut had evidence that the regulated community (meaning licensed providers) would be more likely to embrace the SAFER Program if it did not involve regulatory requirements that might make it more costly to open or operate an ECE program. Even though no regulatory requirements mandate that ECE programs follow SAFER Program guidelines and recommendations, Connecticut has not encountered any significant difficulties with owners or operators complying with SAFER Program recommendations.
Child Care Licensing in Connecticut
Connecticut requires that child care programs be licensed. Licenses are issued by the Division of Licensing, within the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC), an executive branch state agency. Most licensed programs (~60%) are family daycare homes, providing care in a private home to six or fewer children. The remaining licensed programs are group homes (providing care to seven to 12 children) and ECE programs (providing care to more than 12 children). The OEC’s Division of Licensing issues child care licenses for a period of four years. Per state law, child care programs are inspected by OEC’s Division of Licensing before licensure and on a regular basis thereafter (approximately annually). Local health departments are also responsible for inspecting child care programs in Connecticut (approximately every other year).
One EOHA staff person (funded under the ATSDR Cooperative Agreement Program for Environmental Public Health activities)17 devotes approximately 5% of her time to SAFER activities. These activities include
- Evaluating child care facilities referred through the SAFER Program.
- Conducting annual training for inspectors.
- Performing outreach and awareness activities.
- Conducting program evaluation and improvement activities.
This work is done with Connecticut’s existing ATSDR Cooperative Agreement Program staff and currently represents approximately 2%–3% of their funded staff resources. During the time when program design and start-up was occurring, staff resources were somewhat higher. Work done under Connecticut’s SAFER Program is consistent with ATSDR’s Cooperative Agreement Program objectives because it helps identify exposures from environmental hazards involving sensitive populations (young children). For child care licensing staff, the SAFER Program does not add measurably to their workload because the program is built around inspection activities they already perform.
The first step CT DPH’s EOHA program took in building its program was opening a dialogue with staff responsible for licensing ECE programs in Connecticut. This initial meeting provided an opportunity for the two programs to learn about each other. Up to that point, the two programs had little interaction. At the initial meeting, EOHA presented an idea for a pilot program whereby the licensing staff would cross-check the address of an ECE program seeking a new license or renewal with a list of hazardous waste site addresses available on the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) website. ECE programs on a street matching the street of a waste site would be referred to EOHA for follow up. Licensing staff agreed to implement the pilot program and almost immediately identified a child care center that had recently opened on the site of a former manufacturing facility that was listed in CTDEEP’s hazardous waste sites list. EOHA’s follow-up identified a need for soil testing in the playground on the child care property. Soil results showed elevated levels of contamination that were promptly addressed by the property owner. Through this initial case, Connecticut learned that it was possible to identify and effectively address environmental issues at child care centers without new regulations. The pilot program showed that a larger number of ECE programs might be operating on contaminated land and a more comprehensive program was needed.
Connecticut SAFER Program’s Initial Case
In 2007, Connecticut’s SAFER Program identified a new child care center in East Hampton, CT, with the same address as a former manufacturing facility. SAFER Program staff reviewed environmental reports indicating that soil on the property had high levels of arsenic. Soil in the playground on the property had never been tested. Through the actions of the SAFER Program, the child care property owner tested the playground and quickly acted to remove high levels of arsenic that were found in the playground soil. Without the SAFER Program, the arsenic contamination would not have been discovered and children would have been exposed to high levels of arsenic.
14 In this section, the term child care and daycare are used to be consistent with the State of Connecticut’s language.
15 The EOHA prog ram resides within the Environmental Health Section of the Connecticut Department of Public
Health, an executive branch agency. EOHA assesses human exposures and risks from hazardous substances in
outdoor and indoor environments. EOHA also develops health education materials to help people understand and
reduce environmental and occupational health risks.
16 When Connecticut’s SAFER Prog ram was started, the prog ram responsible for licensing child care prog rams was
located within the Department of Public Health. It has since been moved to the Office of Early Childhood, an
executive branch agency established in 2013 to coordinate and improve early childhood prog rams in Connecticut.
17 The ATSDR Partnership to Promote Localized Efforts to Reduce Environmental Exposures (APPLETREE) Cooperative Ag reement prog ram supports state efforts to evaluate and respond to environmental public health issues involving human exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.