If you've ever left your child at a day care center, you know the niggling feeling you get in your gut almost every time.
Will they be OK? Am I doing the right thing by leaving my child here? Will they be safe and happy?
Unfortunately, that gut feeling often proves prophetic for some parents when the day care center does not measure up to the ultra-high standards we expect when we leave our precious children in another's care.
Google "day care" and "abuse," and dozens of stories will pop up detailing cases where children are found unattended, injured and in unsafe conditions. A New York Daily News series on the subject of New York City's 11,500 licensed day care centers found numerous instances of too few people supervising too many kids, overcrowded conditions, no cribs for babies, young children going unsupervised and even being allowed to walk to parks and playgrounds by themselves, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions such as leaking sewer lines and blocked fire exits.
It's not just New York City where these conditions can exist. It's at daycare centers all across the entire state.
So Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed legislation to toughen the standards and penalties for day care centers, as well as provide parents with greater and easier access to information about them, is a welcome and overdue intervention by the state.
Governor's Program Bill #13 would amend Social Services Law to increase oversight and penalties for violations in day care centers covered under the New York City Department of Mental Hygiene and the state Office of Children and Family Services.
It would speed up notification of law enforcement, allow the state and city departments to take action against violators more quickly, strengthen and clarify the circumstances under which the state could remove children from unsafe conditions and shut down day care centers, tighten licensing and renewal standards, and boost financial penalties for violations to up to $5,000 per day, up from the current $500.
To allow parents themselves to learn about the status of day care centers they might be considering or whose children already are attending, the legislation would create a searchable online database of day care centers that includes information on license and permit revocations. Day care centers would also be required to post their care inspection results and all other notices.
Right now, there's no single resource where parents can go to check out whether day care centers have been cited for serious violations and whether their licenses are up to date.
All of these changes, especially new requirements for transparency, are necessary.
But if no one is checking on these places, then no one can be held accountable.
To complement the legislation, the state needs to make sure it has enough inspectors and enough compliance officers to ensure the day care centers are meeting the new standards.
Some of this, at least, can be paid for with the higher fines and increased licensing fees. The rest can and should be paid for by state taxpayers.
If we can't ensure the protection of our children, then really, how good of a society can we claim to be?
New York's crackdown on day care centers is a demonstration that we're making the effort to serve our children better.