Blog

Written by Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

Source: Erie Fire Department, Erie, Pennsylvania.  August 11, 2019

On August 11, 2019, every parent’s worst nightmare happened in Erie, Pennsylvania, as a fire in an overnight family child care home took the lives of five young children ranging in age from 9 months old to 8 years old. Harris Family Daycare was regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and operated out of a three-story home for nearly 20 years. The owner offered nontraditional (and overnight) hour care to meet the needs of working parents in her community.

When I saw the news day, my heart was heavy and my thoughts were with the families and the family child care owner.

In the United States, one out of five adult workers has a nonstandard work schedule (working early morning hours, evening hours, or overnight compared to those who work more traditional day time jobs).[1]  Among low-income families, studies have found that half of parents work jobs during nontraditional hours (e.g., cleaning offices at night or working second shift retail or food service jobs).[2]  For families who need child care during nontraditional hours, the search for child care is extraordinarily difficult. Few child care centers offer care during nontraditional hours and about one-third of regulated family child care homes offer nontraditional hour care.[3]

In the Erie case, the mother of four of the children who died was working as a nurse during an overnight shift. The father of three of the children was a fireman responding to a call at a different location. The fire occurred at 1:15 a.m. presumably while everyone was sleeping. Fire investigators found one smoke detector located in the attic and preliminary reports indicate the fire may have been caused through an extension cord malfunction.[4]

For regulated child care (centers and homes), federal law requires an annual inspection for health, safety and fire standards.[5] However, fire safety rules and inspection compliance procedures are set individually by each state. To operate a licensed family child care home in North Carolina,[6]

  • A battery operated smoke detector or an electronically operated (with a battery backup) smoke detector is required.
  • For homes operating overnight, a battery operated smoke detector or an electronically operated (with a battery backup) smoke detector is required in each room where children are sleeping.
  • An annual licensing inspection is required and a local fire inspection is required if the county in which the home is located requires it.

How do the North Carolina child care licensing requirements measure up against National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommendations?

Unrelated to whether a home is used for child care purposes, NFPA requires that at a minimum, smoke alarms be installed in each sleeping room and on every level of the home.[7] NFPA recommends that smoke alarms be tested once per month. For smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries, the battery should be replaced immediately if the alarm chirps (indicating the battery is low). For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, batteries should be replaced once per year.[8]

In the case of the Erie family child care home fire, there was confusion about whose job it was to check for smoke alarm compliance (e.g., the P.A. Department of Human Services during annual inspections or the local fire department).[9] Pennsylvania state legislators are now drafting legislation to clarify roles and responsibilities and requirements. Perhaps it is time for us to review those regulations and make sure that lessons learned from Pennsylvania are used to inform safety practices here in North Carolina.  

Fire safety generally is a large issue. North Carolina does need fire safety rules and effective monitoring in place for licensed child care. At the same time, the public generally needs to be aware of potential fire danger and NFPA smoke alarm recommendations. It is important that all centers and homes be equipped with working smoke detectors, that those smoke alarms are regularly tested and that batteries are replaced on an annual basis. At $5 – $20, many smoke alarms are an inexpensive investment.[10] 

Particularly for licensed family child care homes, it is critical to ensure that fire protection policies are clear, and that the roles and responsibilities for safety checks are clear as well. Parents work nontraditional hours. Child care is needed, which may involve hours in which everyone in the household is asleep. The tragedy in Erie, P.A. gives us a chance to review fire safety rules for N.C. licensed family child care homes and centers. A child’s life depends on it.


[1] Nontraditional Hour Child Care in the District of Columbia (2018), Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99768/nontraditional-hour_child_care_in_the_district_of_columbia_0.pdf

[2] Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families (2013), Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32696/412877-Nonstandard-Work-Schedules-and-the-Well-being-of-Low-Income-Families.PDF

[3] National Survey of Early Care and Education Fact Sheet, April 2015. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/factsheet_nonstandard_hours_provision_of_ece_toopre_041715_508.pdf

[4] https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/13/us/erie-day-care-fire-inspections/index.html; https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/five-children-killed-pennsylvania-day-care-fire-n1041231; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pennsylvania-day-care-fire-firefighter-loses-3-kids-in-erie-blaze-that-killed-5-children/; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/13/pennsylvania-daycare-caught-fire-did-not-have-enough-smoke-detectors/2002744001/

[5] The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-186), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-113s1086enr/pdf/BILLS-113s1086enr.pdf

[6] https://ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov/Portals/0/documents/pdf/F/FCCH_rulebook.pdf

[7] National Fire Safety Association recommendations and Fire Safety Code, https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Staying-safe/Safety-equipment/Smoke-alarms/Installing-and-maintaining-smoke-alarms

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/13/pennsylvania-daycare-caught-fire-did-not-have-enough-smoke-detectors/2002744001/

[10] https://home.costhelper.com/smoke-alarm.html

Written by Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

My children were born in the late ‘70s, and I remember as a young parent having discussions with our realtor about whether there was lead in the paint of the very old house we were buying. Almost all houses built before 1970, at least in the U.S., contain some form of lead paint. The house we were buying was built much before 1970, and it was clear that we would have to sand and paint every room, change the plumbing and all the good things that come with owning an old home. And fortunately, we did all of that over time, very carefully.

I will admit, however, that I do not remember if lead testing was one of the many conversations I had with our pediatrician about the health and safety of our children. Today, however, it is an essential conversation to have!

Lead Poisoning Today

Lead poisoning has been in the news a lot over the last few months due to the concerning levels of lead found in the water supply of child care programs and its potential impact on the health and safety of the surrounding community. Currently, North Carolina does not require testing water for lead in child care programs, unless a child is found to have elevated blood lead levels. The news has been especially alarming for parents and families who work hard to keep their children safe and on a path to reach their fullest potential. Lead in the public water supply threatens that daily charge.

This issue is not only an issue specific to child care programs: An estimated 10 million Americans get drinking water from pipes that are at least partially lead.

Young Children are the Most at Risk

Young children are especially at risk of harm from lead. Babies and young children’s bodies are still developing and are in a critical life stage for brain development. When they are exposed to lead from water or other sources, it enters directly into the bloodstream where it can harm developing organs, muscles and bones. Infants who rely on formula get 100% of their nutritional intake from water. If that water is tainted with lead, they get an enormous dose of it compared with older children and adults.

Research shows there really is no safe level of lead exposure for a child. Even at the lowest levels of exposure, lead can reduce IQ and harm a child’s ability to concentrate and focus in school. These effects are permanent and can affect a child’s education, health outcomes and long-term earning potential.

Lead poisoning is preventable by identifying lead before children are harmed. The most important step that parents, teachers and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. The North Carolina Commission for Public Health is proposing a change to a child care sanitation regulation that will significantly reduce exposure to lead for some of the youngest and most vulnerable children in our state. With U.S. Environment Protection Agency grant money to pay for the first round of testing, North Carolina can work to make drinking water safer for infants and young children without adding to child care costs.

Prevention: The Proposed Child Care Sanitation rule

We all know that prevention is the best medicine. The proposed child care sanitation rule is an example of a good preventative approach to lead exposure. The following requirements included in the proposed rule will help ensure that it protects children from potential lead in child care drinking and food prep water:

Testing for lead in drinking and food prep water every three years – Lead levels in water can fluctuate over time. Changes in water source or chemistry can cause leaching of lead from pipes into water, increasing water lead levels.[1] This is what led to the Flint water crisis. Additionally, unforeseen plumbing problems such as a dirty aerator or a partial clog can release lead from pipes into drinking and food prep water. Finally, improper maintenance of filters by child care operators can decrease the effectiveness of mitigation measures taken to prevent lead exposure.

Testing all buildings despite age – Buildings constructed after the 1986 Lead Ban may still pose a significant risk of lead contamination in drinking and food prep water. The ban, effective as of 1988, defined “lead free” as materials containing less than 8% lead, which allowed lead to remain in pipes that convey drinking water to homes and in fixtures and faucets in homes. An amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, effective as of 2014, redefined “lead free to require faucets and pipes to contain less than 0.25% lead; as such buildings constructed between 1988 and 2014 can still contain plumbing and fixtures with significant lead content.”[2] Testing all buildings despite age will ensure that no building poses a considerable risk of lead exposure.

Testing all taps – The concentration of lead in one tap is not indicative of the concentration of lead in all taps in a building. Lead concentration across taps can vary because lead can originate from an individual faucet, a dirty aerator or a filter that hasn’t been changed. Therefore, it is critical to test all taps to ensure safe child care center drinking and food prep water.

What You Can Do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on lead poisoning that you can read and share.

Talk with your health care provider about lead screening. Lead screening measures the level of lead in the blood through a blood test in the finger or vein. It is important. Lead is a toxin that is particularly dangerous for young children because of their small size and rapid growth and development. It can cause behavioral and learning difficulties, anemia, seizures and other medical problems. A lead test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning. Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Talk to your doctor about this.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) provides free referral services to families seeking child care, technical assistance to child care businesses and educational scholarships and salary supplements to child care professionals through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®, Child Care WAGE$® and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ Programs. Through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center, CCSA licenses its successful programs to states across the country and provides consultation to others addressing child care concerns. Ensuring that every young child can grow and learn in a healthy and safe learning environment is central to our mission.

CCSA supports the adoption of this rule that would protect thousands of babies and children from lead exposure in child care drinking and food prep water. Additionally, requiring cost-effective mitigation where elevated lead water levels are found will have the added benefit of getting rid of other harmful toxicants such as copper and chlorine by-products.

In North Carolina, public health officials have been working for more than 30 years to eliminate childhood lead poisoning, and have come very close to doing so. Childhood blood lead levels have dropped dramatically population-wide. Unfortunately, some pockets of high exposure remain. Ending lead exposure in drinking and food prep water is an important step to move us toward the goal of no lead exposure for our state’s young children. The proposed amendment will help get us there.

The best way to protect kids from lead exposure is to be proactive about getting rid of lead, rather than waiting for a child to be found with elevated levels in their blood. To do so, we must be willing to get rid of toxic lead in children’s environments. This rule will help us do just that. You can show your support of this rule and submit your comment to the North Carolina Commission for Public Health by August 2, 2019.

Below, are more resources on lead poisoning.

Support Child Care Services Association’s work to ensure the first five years for all North Carolina’s children are happy and healthy. Make a donation today.


[1] For detailed scientific information about how changes in water chemistry can affect levels of lead found in water, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353852/.

[2] EPA, Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water, https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/use-lead-free-pipes-fittings-fixtures-solder-and-flux-drinking-water (accessed 3 March 2019).

By Linda Chappel, Vice President, Triangle Area Child Care Resource and Referral Services at Child Care Services Association

This week the Best of The Triangle 2019 was published in INDYWEEK, naming most favorite activities, foods and events voted on by readers and described as the “wisdom of the crowd.” I present the Best of the Triangle as Durham PreK.

In 2018, the Durham County Commission voted to make historic local investments to open access for more 4-year old children to high quality preschool services. At a time when North Carolina’s legislators are talking about funding virtual preschool, Durham is boldly creating face-to-face opportunities for children with local funds.

A primary goal of Durham PreK is supporting the learning and development of young children to improve the quality of their lives now and in the future. We know from years of research that high quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by providing substantial early learning, which can have lasting effects far into a child’s later years of school and life.

Research finds high quality preschool programs can accomplish this goal by producing large and lasting gains in outcomes such as “achievement, educational attainment, personal and social behavior (e.g., reductions in crime), adult health, and economic productivity.”[1] These gains are broad and last long into adulthood.

The importance of funding pre-K in Durham

At CCSA, our research found there are six low-income preschool children for every one publicly funded preschool space in Durham through programs such as NC Pre-K, Durham Public Schools and Head Start.

Currently, more than 25% of Durham census tracts with more than 50 low-income preschoolers have no publicly funded preschool slots. In a random survey of approximately 2,000 Durham parents, 92% of parents rated cost-free preschool as desirable or essential. [2]

Durham PreK benefits the community

While a child’s success in school and life addresses our society’s greater good, children from lower-income households are often left behind, furthering inequality and setting the stage for the achievement gap that persists through high school. As a vibrant, growing community, Durham recognizes the short- and long-term benefits of attendance in a high quality early childhood program for children, their families and the community.

These benefits range from reduced need for special education services or remedial support during the K-12 years to increased tax revenue and reduced dependency on government assistance in adulthood. Researchers quantified these benefits and found a return on investment of $3-$13 for every dollar invested in early childhood. Even at the low end of this estimate, this is a significant return.

With an abundance of evidence that high-quality universal preschool could reduce the disparities in skills among subgroups of children at kindergarten entry, Durham’s policymakers are focusing considerable resources on the development and expansion of quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds.[3]

Durham PreK will help improve the quality of early education in Durham County by improving classroom instruction, supporting family engagement and building capacity for high quality through practice based coaching, while expanding access to publicly funded preschool services for all the county’s 4-year-olds. A critical component of this initiative is the implementation of preschool classrooms in diverse settings, including public schools and community-based programs. Durham PreK provides teachers and directors with regular coaching and professional development on cultural competence and social-emotional learning and conducts quality improvement activities to enhance children’s classroom experiences.

Unlike many programs around the country, Durham PreK requires teachers hold a Birth to Kindergarten teaching certificate and that they be paid at the same salary level as teachers in Durham Public Schools. Durham PreK places this emphasis on the teachers’ compensation to attract and retain the most qualified teachers.

Our overall goal in Durham is to improve the quality of and access to preschool programs for more children. We started with an ambitious two-year plan that runs through July 2020. We know this will be a journey that builds each year until we can serve all Durham’s children and ensure their life-long success. Durham PreK plans to stay Best of the Triangle.


[1] Phillips, D.A., Lipsey, M.W., Dodge, K.A., Haskins, R., Bassok, D., Burchinal, M.R.,…Weiland, C. (2017). Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects, a consensus statement. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Downloaded July 24, 2017 from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/consensus-statement_ final.pdf

[2] Durham Supply and Demand Study, Child Care Services Association, (2018). https://www.childcareservices.org/research/research-reports/early-childhood-system-studies/

[3] Phillips, D. A., et al. (2018). The changing landscape of publicly-funded center-based child care: 1990-2012. Children and Youth Services Review, 91, 94-104; Cascio, E. U. (2017). Does universal preschool hit the target? Program access and preschool impacts. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; Yoshikawa, H., et al. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence on preschool education. New York: Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development.