JEFFERSON CITY - The mother of a child who died at the hands of an unlicensed child care provider testified in favor of a bill which would crack down on the providers. The House Professional Registration and Licensing Committee held a hearing for a bill which would enact rules and penalties for unlicensed child care providers.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, first called Shelley Blecha to testify in favor of the bill. The bill is named Nathan's Law in memory of Blecha's son, who died in the hands of an unlicensed child care provider. Blecha cried while telling the committee and audience the story of what happened to her son.
"There was nothing that could be done," Blecha said. "All they could do was simply ask her (the child care provider) to never watch children again. The prosecutor wouldn't do anything because the fine was 200 dollars, which I paid more for the ambulance ride for my child than the prosecutor could even get for his life."
Nathan Blecha was three months old when he died in the care of an in-home, unlicensed day care provider that the family had used for three and a half years. The day care provider placed him on his stomach in a play pen and some loose bedding became wedged in front of his face resulting in suffocation.
Committee members quoted a study by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which reported 54 other children died in the hands of child care providers over a 55-month period.
Four components of the legislation would change the current law to:
Schupp says she is pleased with the bill and the support it has garnered thus far. Forty-five legislators co-sponsored the bill.
Last year, the same bill was introduced but was not put before a committee. However, Schupp says that media coverage of the bill has helped it garner support.
"People have heard about it more," Schupp said. "And once people hear about this, they really tend to want to move forward because they know kid's lives are at stake."
None of the representatives spoke against the bill; however, some committee members voiced concerns about the vague language defining who is and is not excluded from the four person limit in the bill. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, wanted more clarification on how home-schooled children would fit into child limits outlined in the bill. Since it would not count any children who go to school all day as part of the four child only limit, Smith said he wanted to know how home-schooled children would be treated.
Kerry Messer, a representative from Missouri Family Network, opposed the first portion of the bill, saying that limits should not be placed on the amount of children a provider can care for at one time.
"When someone who says I will help my neighbor, help my friend from church, help somebody who's asking to be paid for child care services, (but the law) now prohibits them, legally, from being able to bring in their own relatives into their home...this is a pretty serious thing," Messer said.
Blecha said later in an interview that she didn't understand how Messer could debate the child-to-adult ratio in child care.
"I just don't understand his whole hang-up with the number," Blecha said. "You have to have a number if you're going to provide any type of quality care for these children. The statistics will show that children need more than just a bottle crammed in their mouth and their diapers changed. You have to show them love, how are you going to do that if you can watch any amount of children possible?"
The bill still awaits a vote in committee.