Governor’s Response to Scandalous DHS Child Care Audit Is More Than a Little Lame

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and his wife Betsy greet the crowd Tuesday night, November 6, 2012, in Bismarck after his opponent Ryan Taylor conceded the election. Dave Wallis / The Forum

“The response from Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the North Dakota Department of Human Services to a scathing audit of the department’s child care licensing failures misses the mark by a country mile,” the Fargo Forum editorial board wrote yesterday. “It’s little more than an attempt to muddle the message by shooting the messenger.”

I agree.

“The Department of Human Services is not properly monitoring or suspending providers and notifying parents after confirmed knowledge of activities that jeopardize the health and safety of children,” the audit in question stated (read it in full here).

Dalrymple’s response? Attack the credibility of the auditor.

…it turns out that in North Dakota often these facilities weren’t following the rules. They didn’t have a license. And the people who were supposed to be in charge of the licenses and the rules were complicit in keeping parents in the dark about it.

“I look at it as kind of like you’re seeing one side of a story, as the initial report, and then you don’t see anything after that. So it’s really kind of not fair,” he told reporter Mike Nowatzki.

Really kind of not fair.

You know what wasn’t fair? The Department of Human Services being aware of serious problems at licensed child care facilities – including things presenting risks to the children attending them – and they didn’t notify the parents.

DHS was also loosey-goosey with licensing requirements, often letting troubled facilities continue to operate under memorandums of understanding (which are not provided for in the law). Despite these sort of licensing irregularities being central in the case of a five year old girl who drowned while in the care of an understaffed Velva facility last year, it’s the lack of notification to parents that’s the biggest sin here.

For better or worse, the public gives our government vast regulatory authority over all manner of industry and commerce.  This power, which can be both expensive and time consuming when applied to a given business, is granted on the assumption that the government will make the activity being regulated safer. In this instance, we in the public are supposed to feel comfortable leaving our children in the care of certain businesses because those businesses have a license from the government saying they’re safe. They check out. They’re following the rules.

Parents often don’t bother with their own background check on child care providers because why bother, right? The state is supposed to be doing that sort of thing for us.

Except, it turns out that in North Dakota often these facilities weren’t following the rules. They didn’t have a license. And the people who were supposed to be in charge of the licenses and the rules were complicit in keeping parents in the dark about it.

And when confronted with this reality our governor – the chief of the executive branch of government – makes excuses and blames the auditors who uncovered problems.

That’s unacceptable.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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