Who’s afraid of the dark?

In Disney Pixar’s 2001 blockbuster hit movie, Monsters, Inc., viewers were introduced to some of children’s most frightful monsters that come out at night once children are asleep. They crawl out from under the bed, jump out of closets, appear and disappear. Children scream and the louder they scream the greater the scare. And rightfully so! I would scream too! Scary things happen in the dark but when the light comes on the monsters vanish.

Yet scaring is not limited to the cloak of darkness. Sadly there are many more terrifying and real scary things that happen in the light albeit they are hushed, ignored, unannounced and unnoticed until a tragedy becomes apparent.

Placing a child in child care has its share of daunting concerns: who is caring for the child, what is the caregiver’s background, qualifications? How well can they safely supervise children? What happens when there is an evacuation or other emergency situation? Most of care happens in the light but it doesn’t mean it isn’t scary.

This year the Alabama legislature had the opportunity to shed much needed light on Alabama’s dual system of child care - a system that allows for some child care programs to choose to be exempt from basic, uniform standards of health and safety. The Child Care Safety Act, or House Bill 277, intended to change this and increase protections for Alabama’s vulnerable young children – children ages birth to early school age who attend child care programs while their parents work.

The basic precepts of the bill were quite simple: Require all child care programs in the state of Alabama to comply with the Alabama Department of Human Resources Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers. (The current statute allows for child care programs that operate child care as part of a religious ministry to apply for an exemption from these standards on the basis of their religious affiliation with the child care program.) Alabama law requires tattoo parlors to be licensed, nursing homes to be licensed and other facilities that provide care or services to living beings to be licensed EXCEPT places caring for young children – children who are defenseless due to many factors: size, inability to speak or tell their story in ways they will be heard, naiveté and many other reasons none of which provide an adequate cause not to protect them.

VOICES for Alabama’s Children, through their fearless leader Melanie Bridgeforth and her mighty team of four, championed the cause of these children to speak out against their violations and insecurities, their harm and their deaths. They were joined by a throng of committed volunteers, parents, victims and victims’ parents, guardians and grandparents, legal professionals, medical professionals, faith-filled believers, child care providers and an array of other advocates for children.

At the outset, victory seemed well within reach when the Children and Senior Advocacy Committee unanimously passed the bill out of committee. But that was a short-lived victory. The opposition, representing a sub-set of the faith community, and operators of exempt child care programs, quickly rallied their troops to fight the bill, sometimes employing many unscrupulous tactics; yet, a substitute bill incorporating agreed upon language by both sides passed through the House of Representatives 88 – 9. The opposition did not relent. In the end, the bill was kept from finishing the fight by being blocked in the Alabama Senate proceedings. This loss was a great disappointment to the many who believed that for the first time in 30 years, we might be able to RESTORE licensure of all child care operations to the original DHR standard.

In defense of the hard work on this bill, there were numerous victories: a cross-section of unified supporters, multiple media placements to raise awareness to the dual system of child care in Alabama, leaders who overcame their own fears and disappointments and fought for the bill, especially bill sponsors Representative Pebblin Warren, Representative K. L. Brown and Senator Cam Ward among others, and conversations with the opposition to promote what is best for children to mention a few.

Remember as a child singing the song “This Little Light of Mine?” We sang about letting our light shine, not putting it under a bushel basket or blowing it out - NO letting it shine. It’s time to turn on the light Alabama. It’s time for voiceless children to be heard loud and clear. They deserve our BEST because they deserve to be their BEST. Won’t you help turn the light on child care in Alabama? Find out if your child’s or grandchild’s program is licensed. Ask what the staff qualifications are and background check status of ALL employees. Inquire about safety practices for administering medication, emergency evacuation and equipment safety. Visit your child care program often including unannounced visits. He’s/she’s YOUR child. If what you see scares you, cry out – the louder the better.