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Our view: Day care website should be priority in North Dakota

It took just two minutes to randomly select a Minnesota day care to determine if it has been cited by the state for mistreatment of the children entrusted in its care.

We did an internet search for "Minnesota day care licensing lookup," chose a nearby county (Polk) from the selection menu and, based entirely on alphabetical order, clicked on the first day care that appeared — operated by Carol A. Aaland of Fosston, Minn.

The state-run website shows us her license status (active), the type of her service (family child care), her day care effective date (1998) and her last license renewal (July 1, 2018).

Most important, the website shows that Aaland has no citations. The parents of the children taken to this day care can rest assured knowing that this facility, in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, is well run.

The Minnesota website is an efficient and informative public service and one that should be emulated elsewhere — specifically in the dark shadows of North Dakota.

A report in Sunday's Herald highlighted a lack of transparency with day cares in North Dakota. When the North Dakota State Auditor's Office compiled a report on the state Department of Human Services, it noted several deficiencies related to day care, including a lack of proper follow-up with complaints and also that North Dakota is one of few states that still does not list its licensing information online.

Sure, the information is available. But at present, North Dakotans can only get the information by contacting county offices to determine the status of a particular provider. It took four business days when the Herald did such a search for its in-depth story.

There's more: The audit shows the North Dakota Department of Human Services has yet to comply with the Child Care Development Block Grant Act of 2014, which calls for better online access. It was first recommended in a state audit in 2013, but has been pushed to the sidelines since then.

So North Dakotans can look up, say, their neighbor's criminal background (publicsearch.ndcourts.gov/default.aspx) and their neighbor's property tax status (gfcounty.nd.gov/node/59) but we're unable to easily ascertain if our daycare provider has been cited for neglect.

Meanwhile, state audits have shown not only that North Dakota is among a small minority of states that does not post such information, but also that our state has problems in general with parental notification.

It's true that parents are sent letters, but what about the parents who are not yet customers of that day care? Must they solicit these records at the courthouse prior to choosing a day care?

At present, the answer is yes. It's an inefficient and outdated process that protects not the children but instead the day care operators who have been cited.

This lack of openness should be alarming to all North Dakotans, and specifically to those who have day care-aged children. Minnesota has it figured out. So does South Dakota.

When the North Dakota Legislature reconvenes in January for its biennial gathering, will lawmakers push to fix this deficiency? We hope so.

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