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Commentary: Are capricious state regulators contributing to ND's child care shortage?

MINOT, N.D.—One of the most bedeviling problems facing the great state of North Dakota are chronic labor shortages, as generations of policymakers can attest.

A factor in labor shortages is a paucity of services such as child care.

Contributing to the child care shortage, perhaps, is a regulatory regime for care providers which is both arduous for care providers and capricious for those unlucky enough to find themselves in the crosshairs of enforcement.

Recently a Fargo business, Curious Kids Childcare, had its license revoked by regulators after an incident in which three children got away from caretakers for a short period of time through a gate that was inadvertently left open.

Taken at face value that enforcement might seem appropriate.

Losing track of kids is one of the worst things a child care provider can do.

Yet I was contacted by multiple parents who were upset about the license revocation, including the parents of one of the kiddos who slipped out.

These parents told me the owner of that business, Michelle Roeszler, does a good job.

They told me stories about the excellent care and attention their children receive at Roeszler's business.

They feel the state has been treating Roeszler unfairly.

I spoke with Roeszler, interviewing her on my radio show, and she took full responsibility for what happened. Upon learning what had happened she immediately contacted parents and authorities. She fired staff. She instituted new policies. She then met with each parent personally to apologize.

Roeszler told me that her clients were so satisfied with her response that most of them didn't bother to make arrangements for their kids to go elsewhere because they didn't believe the state would pull her license, something I confirmed independently with the parents I spoke to.

But Roeszler's current license expires on July 21, and state regulators say they won't approve a renewal because of the severity of this incident.

That seems unjust given the public records of other incidents I've reviewed.

In December of 2016 workers at NDSU Wellness Center Childcare in Fargo left two children outside on a playground. This resulted in a correction order for the facility, but they were allowed to maintain their license.

In April of 2017 the YMCA South ELC in Fargo lost track of two 5-year-old girls. They were found a mile away from the facility and brought back. This, again, resulted in a correction order but the facility was allowed to maintain its license.

In 2016 state auditors reviewing the work of the Department of Human Services found that state regulators allowed child care facilities to continue operating despite instances of child abuse, neglect, drug use, inappropriate touching from adults, and sexual play between children.

That audit indicated state officials were too lax in performing their oversight duties in the past, but that's no excuse for overzealous enforcement today.

We need a balance between enforcing prudent safety standards for child care centers that aren't prohibitive to entrepreneurs wishing to enter the market and provide care services.

Policy makers take note, we clearly haven't found it.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort