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Erik Burgess, Published December 19 2013

Cass County to start annual inspections of 'self-declared' day cares

FARGO – Tamra Johnson is a little unnerved about having county officials examining her home twice a year with a fine-tooth comb.

Starting Jan. 1, that’ll be the new norm for day care providers in Cass County like Johnson who care for five kids or fewer and are registered with the county.

New federal mandates require Cass County Social Services to inspect the so-called “self-declared” day care providers at least twice a year. One of the trips will be announced and one will be random.

These inspections are already required for fully licensed day care centers that take care of more than five children, said Social Services Director Chip Ammerman. Until Jan. 1, inspections of self-declared day care providers are solely complaint-driven.

Day care providers in Cass County who look after five children or fewer are not required to register with the county, but those that “self-declare” are eligible for federal day care food supplements.

There are about 130 providers in the county that self-declare, or 24 percent of Cass County’s 539 day cares, said Dede Wienckowski, child care licensing specialist for county social services.

It doesn’t appear that the same mandate affects Clay County, said Carol Beckstrom, supervisor of ongoing child welfare and licensing for Clay County Social Services.

“I haven’t heard that at this point,” Beckstrom said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not in the works or something, but we haven’t gotten notice.”

Added workload

The Cass County Commission recently approved hiring an eight-tenths full-time Social Services employee to help with the added workload, at Ammerman’s request.

Inspections take about an hour and include interviewing the day care provider, and surveying areas where children eat, sleep and play, Ammerman said.

“If there’s any concerns or if there’s any violations … then it also requires us to do follow-ups,” he said. “So, minimally, there’s two (annual inspections).”

Johnson, 46, who used to run a fully licensed day care center in Jamestown, said she isn’t too concerned about the new inspections, aside from the uncomfortable feeling one gets when someone is looking over your shoulder, she said.

“If there’s changes I need to make, I’ll make them,” Johnson said.

She’s been a self-declared day care provided in Fargo for 11 years, and now looks after four children.

Rules, requirements

The county will be reimbursed by the federal and state governments for the new requirements, Ammerman said, adding that the state found out about the new requirements in mid-October.

Self-declared day care providers can care for up to five children, including their own. All have to be under the age of 12, and no more than three can be under the age of 2, Wienckowski said.

Any more than five children or a greater number of children under the age of 2 requires the day care to be fully licensed, which requires more stringent, annual training, Wienckowski said.

Self-declared day care providers are eligible to enroll in supplementary food programs, such as Nutrition for North Dakota Daycare Children. Families that use self-declared, registered day care providers are eligible for federal supplements that help reduce the cost of day care.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518