TN prepares for stricter crib rules at child-care centers

7:44 AM, Jul 13, 2011   |    comments
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By Tom Wilemon, The Tennessean

There are more than 3,500 licensed child-care businesses in Tennessee, and the state is about to launch a crib check at every one of them.

The centers must have new cribs with greater safety standards in place by Dec. 28, 2012. The old drop-side railings, which were easy on caregivers' backs but proved deadly for babies in rare instances, are a thing of the past. New manufacturing guidelines also require stronger construction and tougher testing.

Lesley Hosford isn't waiting for inspectors with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to tell her to upgrade cribs at the seven child-care centers her company operates in Williamson County.

"We will have our first delivery in two to four weeks," she said.

But it is up to parents to do safety checks in their homes and their baby sitters' houses. People who make money taking care of fewer than five children aren't licensed or monitored by the state.

The new cribs, manufactured according to more stringent guidelines set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, became available June 28.

"I met a couple of hours ago with a representative of the company we will be purchasing our cribs through," said Hosford, chief operations officer of the company that owns Holly Tree Christian Preschools and The Academy child development centers.

"Because we have multiple locations, we have actually set up a timeline with this company and will be purchasing a certain amount each month over the next year and a half until we can get all our centers' current cribs replaced to meet the new standard."

The Academy of McKay's Mill is on that list even though it has no drop-side cribs. The new requirements also call for improved slat strength, better mattress durability and stronger hardware. The action comes a year after the CPSC recalled more than 2 million drop-side cribs manufactured between 2000 and 2009.

'Huge financial impact' across state

Robert L. Matthews, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Human Services, said the agency is compiling an email list of every child-care center in the state and will be sending out information about the new requirements.

The agency's staff of 50 program evaluators will inform operators about the new requirements during yearly site visits.

"This is actually going to be a huge financial impact for child-care centers across the state," Matthews said.

Prices for the cribs range between $200 and $900 at USA Baby & Kids in Franklin. Chris White, owner of the business, said he has about 40 models on display.

After an initial lull in shipping because of a backlog in testing, supplies are coming through, he said.

Larger day-care operations are bypassing retailers by buying in volume from suppliers and manufacturers.

Hosford ordered cribs for a new day-care center slated to open in October in Hendersonville two months ago because she was worried about a supply snag.

Other safety measures in place

Drop-side cribs with detaching side rails have been associated with 32 infant suffocation and strangulation deaths since 2000. Other deaths have resulted from faulty or defective hardware in cribs.

Although the old cribs will be allowed in child-care centers for another year and a half, Matthews pointed out that the state requires other safety measures to protect infants. One is a required ratio of one caregiver for no more than four infants.

Licensing requirements also mandate training on preventing sudden infant death syndrome, Hosford said.

"A licensing rule is that you physically touch and check a sleeping infant every 15 minutes," she said. "All of our infant classrooms are equipped with timers. The caregivers are trained in SIDS prevention."

Child-care businesses are required to post their star quality report card and evaluation from DHS just as restaurants must put up their health inspection scores. The best rating is three stars.

"I would urge any parent who has a question as to whether their facility is licensed or not to seek out the staff at the center and ask to review the report card," Matthews said. "If they don't see that, they can make a call to DHS to report it."

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