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South Dakota agency wants to lower standards, licensing requirements for child care providers

PIERRE, SD – Child care providers’ annual training requirements would be cut in half, based on proposed changes to child care licensing standards by the state Department of Social Services.

The state DSS also plans to distribute $38 million in federal COVID funds to child care providers before September 2024.

Under current state regulations, child and school-age care providers licensed by the state must receive 20 hours of annual training. That number would be cut to 10 hours based on the proposed changes. Family child care requirements would remain unchanged at six hours annually.

Child care providers include the individual or organization providing services as well as employees providing direct care and supervision for children.

Child care is viewed as not only an educational issue but also as a workforce and economic growth issue by legislators and advocates, including Kayla Klein, executive director with Early Learner South Dakota. The organization opposes the proposed training changes, saying that “quality training” is needed for providers.

“There are so few requirements for someone to educate these young individuals. For example, you only need a GED to be a teacher in a (child care) classroom,” Klein said. “Training is the only way we can give quality education about the most relevant, developmentally appropriate practices when working with children 0 to 5.”

Instead, Klein would prefer to see more collaborations and partnerships to make training more accessible and affordable rather than reduce hours.

The state DSS is holding several listening sessions for parents and child care providers and stakeholders to provide feedback. Once the 2023 legislative session is complete, the state DSS plans to hold a public hearing for a final comment period.

Formerly proposed changes released to providers in 2022 also suggested increasing classroom staff-child ratios “significantly higher.” Currently, ratios are 5:1 for children up to 3, 10:1 for children 3-5 years old, and 15:1 for children 6 and older. After receiving feedback from providers, the ratios were lessened, Klein said.

However, the proposed changes do allow up to four children under the age of 2 to be cared for by one provider while caring for a range of children at different ages and increase the ratio of 5-year-olds and older to 15:1. The changes also set a physical requirement of separating bathrooms by gender.

The organization wants the ratio set to no more than two children under the age of 2 in a mixed ratio setting and opposes the increased ratio for children 5 years and older. Klein also said the bathroom requirement would be an “unnecessary barrier for centers,” since most centers only have shared bathroom spaces available.

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