Iowa Senate GOP Passes Bill To Let Teenagers Work Unsupervised In Daycares

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Iowa Senate Republicans passed an amended child-care bill on Monday that included language to address daycare worker shortages by putting teenagers to work.

House File 2198 allows 16- and 17-year-old employees and substitutes at child care centers to watch school-aged children without supervision.

Senate Republicans amended the bill to change the minimum ratios of children-to-providers child care centers could have. Now, one provider could watch seven 2-year-old children or 10 3-year-old children. Combined with the other language, one 16- or 17-year-old can watch up to 15 children without supervision.

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The bill and the amendment both passed on party lines by 30-18, with Sen. Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City) and Sen. Tim Goodwin (R-Burlington) absent.

“This is wrong. This is just wrong,” said Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque). “This is doing nothing to address the workforce crisis in child care. It is doing nothing to make sure our children are going to be well cared for.”

Before the bill was amended, Jochum offered another amendment that would require child care centers to provide at least 30 days’ notice if they accept the policy which would allow parents’ children to be watched by 16 or 17-year-olds or if the ratio of provider-to-child changes.

“If we’re so hell-bent on passing this legislation, the very least we can do is to notify parents 30 days in advance that these changes are occurring,” she said. “So those parents can make an informed decision on whether or not they believe this is still a safe, nurturing environment for their children.”

Jochhum’s amendment failed on party lines 31-18. Carlin voted against this amendment before leaving the chambers.

“I had a child care business for seven years. I can tell you right now, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Sen. Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines). “You have to pay attention every second. Those little guys can really climb and get hurt. And they need attention. It’s not just warehousing kids in a childcare center.”

Celsi referenced the governor’s child care task force which recently published its results. She said none of the recommendations in the report showed up in legislation.

“This is a non-solution to the problem. And there’s truly just a lack of commitment by this body to do anything about it and it’s very sad,” Celsi said.

Sen. Jeff Edler (R- State Center), who was responsible for the ratio amendment, emphasized the changes are voluntary options for child-care providers to adopt.

“I trust in our daycare providers that they can make the proper decisions and have the assistance there available to help out,” he said.

Sen. Craig Johnson (R- Independence) was the sponsor of the bill. He said this legislation will allow employers to use their existing workforces—16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to work in child-care centers but under adult supervision—and increase providers so more parents can get back to work.

But the majority of Iowans—65%—across all demographic lines oppose allowing 16-year-olds to watch children unsupervised, according to a recent poll in the Des Moines Register.

Only 27% of Republicans and Independents favor the move, while 64% are opposed. That’s the breakdown for people with children under 18, too. For Democrats, 21% are in favor and 69% oppose.

“So if you don’t want to defer to the experts, or listen to them, listen to your constituents,” said Sen. Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha).

She shared the poll results on the floor, along with opposition from child care experts such as the Save The Children Action Network.

“So if that’s not convincing enough, where are we getting our information that says this is gonna work?” she asked. “If it’s a 16-year-old in your house that’s babysitting, that’s a completely different scenario. This is a 16-year-old who’s watching a number of families’ children.”

“We’re talking about 16-year-olds,” she continued. “They are children.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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2 Comments on "Iowa Senate GOP Passes Bill To Let Teenagers Work Unsupervised In Daycares"

  • So the same 16 and 17 year old who can’t check out certain library books or discuss certain subjects because the adults think they can’t cope with facts are now suddenly wise and patient and educated beyond their years enabling them to handle up to 15 2 or 3 year old’s? Not the brightest bunch of adult colors in the box are they? As an aside what have the insurance company’s to say about this? Seems to me unsupervised spells liability.

  • Wait, what??? I thought that the unsupervised-teen part was only going to apply to watching “school-age children,” which I thought meant five years old and up. I thought that was rather iffy already. Now they’ll have unsupervised teens watching a number of two-year-olds and three-year-olds??

    No way would I want, if I were an insurance company, to insure that situation. What’s next for the Iowa Legislature, creating a special thousand-dollar cap on insurance payouts if something at a childcare center goes south?

    I knew someone whose toddler ended up with a broken arm in an Iowa childcare center when a staffer made a mistake. Yes, mistakes can happen in childcare centers, and making those mistakes more likely to happen is NOT smart lawmaking.

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