Recently, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services sent letters to Barry County Prosecuting Attorney Johnnie Cox requesting he take action against seven unlicensed facilities in and around the Cassville area. Cox, who believes childcare decisions should be made by parents, has decided not to file charges against the facilities.
"This crack-down comes after a child died in an unlicensed daycare facility in St. Louis County," Cox said. "That's the driving force behind this effort."
Cox said he is aware of the issue, but so are the parents.
"If a parent feels comfortable leaving their child in an unlicensed facility, that's their choice," Cox said. "In Barry County, we know each other. Parents won't leave a child with someone they don't trust."
Cox said the state wasn't complaining about safety issues, such as fire extinguishers and evacuation routes, but solely about the numbers of children in these centers.
"There have been no complaints about injuries, abuse or neglect," Cox said. "That would be a different matter."
Cox said there are stringent rules governing daycare facilities, such as the number of potty chairs, square footage and the number of toys available to each child.
"Many of these daycare facilities would have to greatly reduce the number of children they care for or not use their current facilities because they would not meet these stringent requirements.
"The state requires these facilities have separate office space and break room facilities for employees that are not counted into the square footage of space available to children," Cox said.
"There are very few licensed daycare facilities in Barry County, so what are parents to do?" he asked.
One example of that was the last-minute budget cut at the state level that recently impacted two early childhood care centers and at least six staffers and administrators in Barry County.
The Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC) suffered deep funding cuts, nearly 54 percent of its annual budget, to the state's Early Head Start program after the Missouri General Assembly passed the budget in May. Some of those parents were forced to see other daycare arrangements so they could continue working or going to school.
"At some point, it's up to the parents to decide what is best for them and their children," Cox said. "They need to ask about things such as fire extinguishers, evacuation routes, liability insurance and other safety issues. If they don't like the answers from their current provider, they need to see childcare elsewhere."
Cox said he feels the seven facilities that were brought to his attention were targeted by the state.
"There are unlicensed facilities all over Barry County, and in other areas as well," Cox said. "The state can't regulate all of them.
"Furthermore, bad things can happen in licensed daycare facilities as well as unlicensed ones," Cox continued. "It boils down to what parents are comfortable with, what they can afford and trusting their childcare provider. That's where we're at."
Cox said it's impossible to tell a parent that he knows what's better for their children than they do.
"Parents are in a better position to judge what is best for their children," Cox said. "Why do I need to tell them it's not acceptable?"