Nearly half of the home child- care providers in the county are unlicensed and therefore breaking the law, according to Moffat County Child Care Providers Association President Paula Reed.
That's something she wants to change.
Members of the organization are starting a campaign to get all unlicensed providers the training needed to be legal, thus avoiding a possible $10,000 fine from the state.
Reed estimated there are between 12 and 20 unlicensed providers in Moffat County compared to the 20 who are licensed.
"We'd like very much to get them licensed and get them to be a part of our group," association member and pre-licensing course teacher Janet Martinez said.
Reed said providers are permitted to care for the children in one family. But if he or she is watching more than one family of kids, the adult must take about 28 hours of courses to become certified by the state.
Each provider may care for eight children, two of whom are kindergarten or older and six of whom are preschoolers, with a maximum of two under the age of 2.
Often, parents have no idea if the person watching their child is a licensed provider, according to Reed.
"They don't usually ask," she said. "They get a list from Social Services and it doesn't say if they're licensed or not."
Reed noted the Department of Social Services distributes a list of all providers in Moffat County, with no indication of qualifications.
The cost to become licensed is just over $100, plus an annual fee of about $22. The Workforce Investment Act, organized by the Craig Workforce Center, offers to pay these fees for providers on public assistance or who meet the income guidelines.
"If parents aren't licensed, it's a safety risk to the parents who leave their (children) there," Employment Specialist Michelle Henderson said.
That's why she thinks it's so important to help out providers who may be delaying taking courses for financial reasons.
Reed agreed it's not safe for a child-care provider not to be trained.
"You'd know to call 911, but you wouldn't know what to do in the few minutes before the ambulance gets here," she said.
In addition to funds from the investment act, the Family Day Care Rating Scale gives providers an idea of how their home facility measures up. An "excellent" score on a number of comfort and safety factors reflects the ideal situation.
If a provider ranks low on a particular aspect and wants to improve, he or she may receive grant money through the Department of Human Services for classes or equipment that could raise their score. However, only licensed providers qualify.
The Wildwood program can help providers with food costs, ensuring local children are meeting their nutritional needs. With all this economic help, Reed said there's no excuse for providers not to get licensed.
"We don't want to point fingers at them," Reed said. "We want them to get licensed because we want there to be quality care."
Add the number of unlicensed child-care specialists to the current shortage of providers in the area, and Reed said the situation is a difficult one. The most important advice she has for parents is to find a home where they feel comfortable leaving their children and their children feel comfortable being left.
"Parents should make sure that it's a good fit for their kids," Reed said.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.