Fairfax County home day care providers will find out June 18 exactly how many children they’re legally allowed to care for under county regulations.
The Board of Supervisors deferred a decision Tuesday night on whether to increase the number of children providers can care for with a special permit from 10 to 12. After hearing emotional testimony from both providers and stakeholders, supervisors decided they needed more time.
With a license from the Commonwealth of Virginia, a provider can care for up to 12 children. But Fairfax County ordinances only allow for seven children, unless the provider applies for the special permit for 10 children.
The county rarely enforced the law and many providers took on a dozen children, arguing they were allowed by the state.
County officials have been working towards a solution for months, but many providers fear that they will still have to decrease their rolls and turn away families.
Susan Gallier, a provider in Burke and president of the Burke Child Care Connection, urged the Board to delay the process for two years in order to explore allowing home day cares to take in 12 children by-right instead of seven.
She said the application process was too complicated and that the influx of providers looking to get a special permit for 12 kids would cause county employees to work extra hours.
“If they decide to get the permit, I wonder how they will fare in this process,” she said of her fellow providers. “Other counties are waiting to see what Fairfax County is going to do. I like that we lead, so let’s lead.”
Gallier also suggested “grandfathering” home day cares that were already caring for 12 kids per state law. The zoning ordinance takes into account the amount of traffic and noise a day care could cause in a neighborhood, but if nearby residents hadn’t complained, Gallier argued there was no harm done.
“If it’s working for them, I don’t see why we just can’t let it work,” she said, garnering applause from the audience.
But representatives from the county attorney’s office were wary of grandfathering in activities that hadn’t been compliant with county zoning and said doing so would be “misguided.”
Other providers echoed longstanding fears that requiring day care owners to decrease their rolls would only force them to go underground and operate without a license.
“Many providers will go underground,” said CeCe Holman, a Reston provider of more than 24 years. “Once they’re unregulated, they’re uncontrolled.”
Liz Hijar, a Reston day care owner of 18 years, said she would have to turn away friends’ children.
“I am more than daycare to these people,” she said. “They are my family. This is not just a numbers game.”
Not all speakers were in favor of raising the number of children – resident Malia Anderson said it was dangerous to let providers care for too many kids and could lead to tragedy.
“This happens more often than one would care to think,” she said. “A group of 12 children creates an environment that’s chaotic and insecure.”
But providers shunned that notion immediately.
“The providers here follow the law,” Gallier said. “I personally did 67.5 hours of training during 2012.”
Staff said they were expecting more than 400 applications for special permits to come through the Board of Zoning Appeals and that they would work as quickly as possible.
Providers who currently have the 12 children allowed by the state will be granted a grace period from enforcement while their application is pending.
Supervisors asked the county attorney’s office for a comprehensive list of whether they should grandfather, or how it could work.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said emotions were running high and wanted the community to keep the issue in perspective.
“It’s not whether home-based day care is a good thing,” he said. “It’s whether we should amend the ordinance.”
Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) said while some providers might not have received or heard about complaints, her office had gotten calls about traffic and noise. The amendment was about trying to find a balance between everybody’s interests, she said.
“One size is not going to fit all,” she said.
The Board will make a final decision in a vote scheduled for 4 p.m. June 18.