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Meredith Holt, Published April 01 2013

Mom adds voice to ND child care debate in memory of late daughter

BISMARCK - For six months, Addison Czapiewski was her mom’s “office assistant” at her job with the Bismarck Police Department.

“My co-workers absolutely loved her. They would stop by my office just to see her,” mom Tammy Czapiewski says.

Known for her big smile and giggly laugh, Addison was set down for a nap on her third day at day care. The happy baby didn’t wake up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4,500 infants die suddenly of no immediate, obvious cause. Addison was one of them.

Tammy Czapiewski, 29, of Bismarck, says it was 45 minutes before Addison was checked on.

“To me, 45 minutes is completely unacceptable,” she says.

A couple months after Addison died, her mother started researching North Dakota law and fighting for tougher child care regulations.

The current law states, “The provider shall check on sleeping infants regularly or have a monitor in the room with the sleeping infant.”

Czapiewski is petitioning to define “regularly” as “every 15 minutes” and change the “or” to an “and.” So far she has over 1,000 signatures.

Next week she’ll be in Washington to speak on Capitol Hill and try to gain support for Addison’s Law, which would address how often providers check on sleeping infants under their care.

On her Change.org page, she uses her daughter’s name to spell out the guideline: “Every 15 minutes, (A) all (D) day care providers (D) do visual (I) infant (S) screening (O) observations at (N) naptime.”

She also recently testified in front of North Dakota’s Senate Human Services Committee in support of the original House Bill 1422, which sought to provide funding for child care and establish a quality rating and improvement system.

Such a rating system would assign stars to programs, promote the star rating system, provide consultation to help programs improve their ratings and award incentives based on rating.

The parent advocate says of the response: “I don’t like getting sympathy stares when I tell my story. I’d rather get action than sympathy.”

Czapiewski says Addison was the only infant under the provider’s care at the time.

Under current law, one provider can watch up to four children 18 months or younger. The amended HB 1422 would change it to five.

In a letter to the human services committee, Czapiewski writes, “It would be absurd to allow one caregiver to be allowed to care for five infants at one time. In my opinion, allowing one caregiver to be allowed to care for four infants is pushing the limit.”

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, the prime sponsor of the original bill, says the determination of children-to-staff ratios should be left to the experts, not state legislators.

“Should the numbers be higher? Maybe. But North Dakota’s right in the middle. We’re not real stringent, and we’re not real lax,” she says.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, says the check-ups and ratios do need to be looked at but that North Dakota’s regulations are already more restrictive than other states’.

The committee chairman says he’s heard from providers who say relaxing the law in certain areas would help them provide service.

“We have the job, then, of balancing the difference between the safety and the staffing levels to the business sense of being able to make payroll. That’s why it’s a very complicated issue,” he says.

Another of Porter’s concerns is cost. He wants all the bills that provide funding for child care combined.

“Inside of the Commerce budget, there’s $3.5 million; inside of the Department of Human Services budget, there’s $2.7 million,” he says.

Still in the human services committee as of Friday night, HB 1422, which originally sought $15 million, is down to $2.1 million.

Hawken says the original bill, which Czapiewski hopes to see recovered, was a positive step for the state in the short term.

“Right now, the child care industry is at a crisis level,” she says, adding that child care was the No. 1 issue for North Dakotans – second only to housing – in the North Dakota 2020 and Beyond Initiative.

She says HB 1422 would be a way to keep providers afloat while legislators look at other ways to improve child care.

But Porter wants the industry looked at as a whole now.

“We wanted to make sure we were looking at everything, not just bits and pieces of this very complicated industry,” he says.

No matter what happens in the legislature this session, Czapiewski will continue her fight.

“It’s important to me that we maintain the quality of care that we should have” – and make it better, she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590