Local child care provider voices opinions on new transportation regulations

By Megan R. Harrell

A hearing was held Tuesday night in Knoxville to allow the public to voice concerns on new child care transportation requirements proposed by the Department of Human Services (DHS). The hearing is one of several being held across Tennessee in response to changes slated to begin taking effect Oct. 1.
   The new rules apply to all child care providers in the state that are licensed by the DHS. The requirements have not been finalized, but propose child care providers take extensive measures to improve safety while transporting children under their supervision.
   The proposed changes include requiring child care agency's to display their names, phone numbers, and the complaint hotline number on transporting vehicles. Changes will also require drivers to hold a commercial drivers license, and vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers must comply with the Federal Vehicle Safety Standards that apply to all school buses. DHS may also make it mandatory that all drivers pass annual health and mental inspections.
   Although the new rules would make transportation qualifications more stringent, one local child care provider believes some changes in transportation requirements will have a positive effect on its facility. "We cannot be too careful when transporting children," Director of Hunter First Baptist Day Care, Geneva Norris said. "I feel this is the greatest risk in childcare."
   The Hunter First Baptist Church Day Care only uses its transportation service for field trips during the summer months. Norris stated the day care follows all of the DHS regulations that are currently in place when it buses school age children to the pool, park, and museums.
   Norris believes Hunter First Baptist Day Care should feel little change in the way it transports children because it already keeps its standards higher than what is required of them. According to Norris, the only change in regulations that her agency does not already practice is the requirement that drivers have a CDL.
   Norris said her staff are happy to comply with the new standards, but would like to see exhaustive state regulations that require all child care providers to abide by the same rules. "We compete with local agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club who do not come under these regulations. They transport the same age children with very lax standards," Norris said. "These new standards should be adhered to by all agencies transporting children."
   The Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club does not fall under DHS regulations, but Executive Director, Darrell Crowe believes the agency takes its own precautions when providing after-school transportation to local children. "We just try to make sure all of the children are in their seat belts," Crowe said. Crowe stated the Boys and Girls Club follows the guidelines set by its insurance company in regard to the drivers it allows to operate its 15-passenger van.
   Child care providers licensed by the DHS, and that operate 15-passenger vans, have already had to make adjustments due to "emergency changes" that were adopted in August. The special requirements for 15-passenger vans were part of a series of detailed guidelines that will be in place until the final rules are enacted the beginning of October.
   The new emphasis on child care transportation comes after four children were killed in a child care van accident in April. The new regulations have been handed down from a panel appointed by Gov. Don Sundquist.