Homeless shelters serving kids wouldn’t need childcare licensing under Senate bill

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A bill to allow homeless shelters in Michigan to be exempt from obtaining licenses as childcare facilities is set to be taken up Wednesday in a state Senate committee. 

Sen. Roger Victory

Sponsored by state Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville), Senate Bill 636 intends to “ensure that Holland Rescue Mission and other facilities who replicate their model can continue to provide childcare services in their unique setting,” according to Victory’s office. 

The legislation was inspired by the Holland Rescue Mission, which provided free childcare for homeless families for 27 years until a complaint about licensing halted the service, according to Executive Director Darryl Bartlett. He added that the nonprofit was told years ago when it was applying for a license that its services were basically babysitting at a church and they didn’t need a license.

Holland Rescue Mission provides services that address the causes of homelessness and works to equip individuals to return to work through long-term programming.

The Holland Rescue Mission specifically addresses the issue of getting homeless mothers back to work, Bartlett said. Holland saw a dramatic increase in female homelessness in the late 1990s and the rescue mission built a separate facility called the Family Hope Ministry Center for women and children to suit a growing population. The facility has 26 bedrooms and bathrooms and houses the childcare facility.

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When a complaint about licensing was filed and the state investigated and shut down the childcare program, Bartlett said he was shocked because there was never a single complaint in almost three decades of operation.

“We had to cease this vital service for moms,” Bartlett said. “They are unable to get jobs because they have to take care of their children. … They can’t go into the long-term program because there is no affordable option for childcare.”

Bartlett then heard that other facilities were having similar problems with licensing, especially in regards to homeless facilities.

It’s impossible for homeless facilities with a fluctuating population to maintain the worker to child ratio that state requires for a license, Bartlett said. On any given weekend, the Family Hope Center receives five to 10 new families with varying numbers of children. The center couldn’t sustainably regularly employ the proper amount of workers, he said.

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For every 100 residents, children account for 30 to 50 of those residents, Bartlett said. A hard-and-fast number of children doesn’t fit the reality of homeless shelters. Bartlett hopes some sort of different required ratio can be determined to ensure child welfare.

SB 636 has been referred to the state Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Veterans, where Bartlett plans to testify Wednesday on behalf of homeless shelters impacted by current licensing laws.

Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spokesman Matthew Erickson said LARA is reviewing the bill and working with sponsors.

Under the bill, there are requirements meant to ensure child welfare such as:

  • Having a paid licensed nurse on staff
  • No fewer than 75 beds for homeless residents
  • No higher than a 4:1 ratio of infants to childcare staff
  • Provides job training and placement programs for parents who are residents of the shelter
  • Has a written agreement with a local law enforcement agency to regularly patrol the shelter

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The key to best set standards for unlicensed facilities, according to Victory, is to create a ratio for beds. This would require homeless shelters with 75 to 100 beds to have four child care staff members. Shelters with 101 or more beds would require an additional worker for every 25 beds.

“Holland Rescue Mission is an outstanding facility that does things the right way,” Victory said. “My hope is that we can create legislation that permits their operation to continue the good work they have carried out for over two decades and allow other facilities across the state to replicate that proven model.”