Lawmakers seek audit of Child Care Licensing Unit over delays

    BRIEF

    An empty preschool desk
    Some day care owners say the process for getting licensed or renewing their license takes longer than it should. (Getty Images)

    New Hampshire lawmakers have requested a performance audit of the state’s Child Care Licensing Unit, citing concerns over long delays with license renewals.

    The unit, a subdivision of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, is tasked with overseeing day cares, nurseries, and other programs in the state. In that role, the unit conducts onsite evaluations and investigations, and handles license applications.  

    But some day care owners say the process for getting licensed or renewing their license takes longer than it should. Under New Hampshire’s administrative rules, Health and Human Services has 120 days to respond to applications for license changes, but that process can face delays, some lawmakers say.

    “I have one constituent who owns a day care,” said Rep. Lynn Ober, a Hudson Republican, in an interview. “And when she went up for relicensing, she went several weeks beyond when her license was due, couldn’t put her license on the board, and actually had to write a letter to her parents saying: ‘While we haven’t been disapproved you need to know my license is no longer valid and HHS recommended I tell you that.’ ’” 

    The delay was eased after Ober lobbied Health and Human Services on the constituent’s  behalf, but the delay still inconvenienced the center and the families it served, Ober said.

    Ober is the chairwoman of the Legislative Performance Audit and Oversight Committee, which recommends new audits for the state’s Legislative Budget Assistant to take on. On Friday, in a 7-0 vote, the committee approved a request for the budget assistant to begin an audit into the unit.

    Ober said her constituent’s predicament is not unique. Ober had been urged to request an audit by another lawmaker who had also heard from constituents, she said.

    “Somebody who’s had a significant number of constituents complain and somebody who’s in a bigger city than where I live,” she said.

    Other members of the committee had different concerns they would like investigated.

    “I think what drives my interest . . . is to make sure that we have the proper safety protocols in place,” said Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat, in an interview Friday. Given the sheer number of safety and hygiene rules that the Child Care Licensing Unit must investigate and enforce, a performance audit could help illuminate how effective those investigations have been, he said.

    Kahn also pointed to workforce issues that have burdened day care centers across the state – even before the pandemic.

    “What I think, again, drives my interest is the importance of child care facilities and the importance of quality child care,” he said. “. . . To get as many people into the workforce as possible.” 

    The committee’s recommendation heads next to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, the panel of House and Senate lawmakers who make decisions. That committee meets next on May 21.

    House lawmakers had considered a bill earlier this year that would reform the licensing process and make it more open to the public. House Bill 230 would require that Health and Human Services issue its findings in an investigation or licensing decision no later than 21 days after the decision had been made – and inform the day care center 15 days before it became public. 

    That bill was retained in the House Executive Departments and Administrative Committee in March to allow more work. It will be taken up in 2022.