By Teresa Ashford

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

Should the state tell parents when it has complaints about a day care? Like our president’s recent grammatical error, there is one word missing from this question posed by The Bulletin’s editorial board. Yes, the state should tell parents when it has substantiated complaints about a day care.

Families are on edge. Child care is in high demand in Central Oregon, wait lists in the hundreds are common, building new centers is cost-prohibitive and the local case of January Neatherlin (the child care provider sentenced for 21 years for abandoning and drugging children in her unlicensed day care to tan and exercise) is still on everyone’s minds.

Early childhood educators are in the business of caring for children and families. At the end of the day, many of us are also small, local business owners. Countless providers are living in a culture of fear of retaliation from upset families and neighbors; families and neighbors upset for reasons not related to best practice in our early learning environments.

In addition to owning an in-home program, I have been a college instructor for nearly 20 years. At the end of each academic term, I am gifted with my course evaluations. I take these evaluations seriously, as do my supervisors. Inevitably, there are always a few comments that are downright mean and vindictive. These comments are often tied to a disgruntled student; one who wasn’t allowed to make up six weeks’ worth of work in a weekend, one who was upset about how an assignment was graded or one who simply didn’t like the course material or me. It’s bad enough unfiltered versions of their complaints are available on Rate My Professor. I’m trying to envision if these confidential course evaluations were public information, especially if they were found to be invalid or unsubstantiated. Who does that benefit? Who does that serve?

“The state said it would post all complaints on a state website — whether they were found to be valid, invalid or unsubstantiated.” The Bulletin’s editorial board appears distraught that unsubstantiated and invalid complaints beyond two years will not be posted. I question why any unsubstantiated or invalid complaints would ever be public information? What happened to due process and assuming innocence until guilt is proven? A colleague’s research has uncovered that K-12 educators are entitled to due process, as are physicians, Realtors and many other professionals. Why not child care providers?

Unsubstantiated means “not supported or proven by evidence.” I’ve been fortunate thus far in the management of my in-home program — there have never been complaints, my license is current and there have been no reportable injuries. Knock on wood. I have, however, had angry emails from a few parents, a few families upset they were held responsible for paying for tuition 30 days after they had given notice, a call from an angry neighbor who called my in-home program a “blight” to the neighborhood and one parent who negatively changed her review of our program on Facebook based on our focus on compassion and inclusion. Most disgruntled families and neighbors rely on social media outlets like Facebook, Google reviews, and Yelp to “get back” at providers with whom they are displeased. Some turn to the state to make invalid claims.

How can our community and the state of Oregon best serve children and families? And how can we also support child care providers? Child care providers who are often working for substandard wages, who have opened up their homes to care for young children because they care about “being strong for all working families”? Who also have to consider the best interests of their own families? Publishing unsubstantiated and invalid complaints simply does not serve children, families, providers or our community.

—Teresa Ashford lives in Bend.

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