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SPRINGFIELD, IL, JULY 17, 1998 -- The Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Friday announced a 12-point plan aimed at improving safety in state licensed day care homes and centers, speeding the licensing process for new applicants, and reducing the current backlog of facilities awaiting renewal of licenses.
The plan, which includes a 52 percent increase in licensing staff and the development of a new statewide complaint tracking system of licensed day care homes and centers, responds to calls from the day care community for faster licensing turnarounds, more frequent monitoring of existing facilities, and enhanced qualifications for licensing representatives.

"Efficiency is important, but the safety of the estimated 250,000 children in Illinois licensed facilities is paramount," said Director Jess McDonald, noting that background check requirements for all day care workers, as well as a dramatic increase in new licensing applications from welfare recipients seeking a career in in-home child care, are at least partly responsible for the recent backlog.

"The measures announced today will add more licensing staff, speed the licensing process and improve monitoring of the 13,000 day care homes and centers we currently license," said McDonald. "Service quality will also improve through increased training for DCFS licensing staff, better computer tracking of facilities that are up for renewal and monitoring visits, easier public access to licensing information about individual providers, and ongoing dialogue with day care advocates."

Licenses to operate a day care center or home must be obtained for any facility caring for more than three children, and must be renewed every three years. Annual monitoring visits ensure facility compliance with day care standards.

Improvements in the Departmentís day care licensing and monitoring system include:

Hiring of additional day care licensing staff, raising the staff total from 145 licensing staff in 1997 to 220 staff positions in 1998 -- a 52 percent increase. Twenty-six new licensing representatives, supervisors and support staff positions were authorized last December, and another 49 positions were authorized this month.

The new positions are expected to be filled by September. The additional staffing gives each licensing representative a manageable caseload of new licenses, renewals, and investigations. All regions of the state will receive new positions, with particular weight given to Cook County, home to more large day care centers than any other area of the state.

Upgrading qualifications for day care licensing representatives, with an emphasis on early childhood education and experience. A revised applicant exam is already in use. There will be a phase-in period of these qualifications for existing licensing staff.

Representatives of the day care industry have agreed to work with DCFS to recruit qualified applicants.

Establishment this month of a new automated statewide complaint tracking system.
In the first 10 months of 1997 alone, licensing staff investigated 1,495 complaints against licensed day care centers and homes, nearly 60 percent of which are substantiated.

Establishment next month of a new automated licensing caseload tickler system that will notify supervisors and administrators each month about licenses due to expire that month, as well as monitoring visits that need to be conducted that month.
Some 3,695 day care licenses will expire in 1998. Currently, there are 1,163 day care facilities in license renewal status (391 centers and 772 day care homes). Another 1,642 applicants await approval of initial licenses (305 centers and 1,337 homes).

Development and funding of a new Key Indicator System that streamlines the licensing renewal process for well-functioning day care centers, allowing licensing staff to focus more attention on centers needing more assistance to come into compliance with licensing standards. This new system is expected to be on-line by January 1999.
Issuance next month of a revised Licensing Handbook and Procedures Manual. The handbook will serve as the basis for a new comprehensive training program for DCFS and private agency day care licensing staff, which will begin this Fall.
Establishment of an external "Center for Excellence" program, that will provide orientation and mentoring to prospective licensees, and ongoing technical assistance to day care homes and centers.
The stateís day care system is in need of technical assistance to improve quality programming. Many new applicants need to understand the fundamental health and safety requirements of running day care facilities, while seasoned providers would benefit from ongoing professional development to improve the quality of their programs.

Establishment of a new statewide, toll-free "Day Care Hotline," effective January 1999, which will provide callers access to information regarding the licensing status, history, and complaint record of any day care facility. The 800 number will build on the stateís current Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) system.
Expanding to three weeks the Departmentís current two-week core training program for new workers, with a curriculum emphasis on early childhood and child development.
Revision last January of the Departmentís Licensing Standards for Day Care Centers, the first major revision since 1985.
The changes are based on five years of work with the Child Care and Development Task Force, the State Advisory Committee on Day Care and other groups, to improve the health and safety of children in state licensed day care centers.

Under an agreement between the Department and the Day Care Action Council of Illinois, regular meetings will be held over the next six months to encourage input from the day care community on hiring, training, and the above improvements.
In Illinois, there are more than 10,000 licensed day care homes and 3,100 licensed day care centers. The Department receives more than 2,000 day care inquiries per month.

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