By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
The Mississippi Board of Health voted Wednesday against a move to require kitchens in child-care facilities, but the lone advocate of the regulation promises to fight on.
The Mississippi Department of Health, which governs licensing of Mississippi child-care centers, had proposed a new series of regulations requiring kitchens for all child-care facilities licensed after Jan. 1.
Petra Kay, the operator of the Northtown Child Development Center, told the board a kitchen regulation is needed to battle obesity.
“I’m very disappointed about the kitchens, since we are the most unhealthy state in the nation,” Kay said. “We choose for child-care centers to be open without a kitchen, which means we bring in junk food. We have the highest rate of heart disease, we have the highest rate of obesity, and if we want to change anything in nutrition, it starts with children and not adults. Adults are not good learners when they have to change their diet.”
Kay proposed the idea of mandatory kitchens during the May meeting of the Child Care Advisory Council.
“I’d like to thank the board and the staff for making the adjustments,” said Ron Aldridge, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Those are very good and very common sense.”
The board also addressed a regulation involving a measurement of square footage. Originally, the new regulations would require a center be remeasured if it’s remodeled, sold to a new owner, it’s layout changes or in any situation that places the “health and safety of a child in danger.” The inspection mandate was dropped and the decision on whether to inspect a child-care facility lies with the discretion of the Mississippi Department of Health’s licensure division, which regulates the centers.
According to the regulations, a child-care center must have 35 square feet of “usable” space per child, which doesn’t include bathrooms, storage rooms and hallways.
Aldridge said he wants a stronger grandfather clause that would protect centers sold or transferred from costly remeasurements, which can reduce the number of the center’s children. Fewer kids means fewer dollars for operators.
“The law traditionally goes back in time,” Aldridge said. “There have been changes over the last several years that have caused problems for several facilities, which have had to decrease, and it’s cost them money. When you’ve got a banker looking over your shoulder and you purchase a building on a certain number of kids, you’re in trouble with the banker. There needs to be a reasonable period of going back to help these folks and to keep child-care available in Mississippi.”
Kay isn’t finished fighting for a new regulation.
“I will bring up the kitchens again. You cannot open up a school, which is what we are, without a kitchen with proper nutrition for the children you take care of.”