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Amelia Gil, owner of Tia Amelia’s Daycare in Union Gap, organizes toys in the playroom on July 9. Gil has owned and operated her business since June 2007.

The state body overseeing child care providers said it will accept work experience and equivalency options in lieu of new education requirements for in-home providers.

Updated rules regulating in-home provider practices were rolled out by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families at the start of August in response to changes to state law.

Providers had five years, or until August 2024, to meet new education requirements.

Under those rules, center directors, assistant directors and program supervisors would be expected to hold a 47-credit Washington state early childhood education certificate. Employees below them were required to have varying degrees of certificates, from a high school diploma or equivalent to a 20-credit short certificate in early childhood education.

The change was made as part of an ongoing effort to transition the role of child care from a place to leave kids while parents work to a place where kids prepare to successfully enter kindergarten, said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter.

“That is when they learn the fastest is in those early years. So we’re trying to improve the quality of child care, one, so it’s safer, but also so that it is more engaging for children and they’re more likely to be prepared and be successful,” he said. “We’d like to not have a big difference between the haves and have-nots of the children in the world, and one way to approach that is to even out the education experience that children have.”

Hunter said the state body was making an effort to listen to providers, and in response to their feedback, explored options for recognizing years of work experience and professional development training as an equivalent to higher education requirements.

Now providers will have a variety of options to pursue.

Providers who have completed training requirements, have a good licensing standing and at least seven years of experience as of August 2024 can take a DCYF-administered competency test.

Alternatively, employees of all levels — from center director to aides — can submit equivalent credentials. For a center lead, for example, this could be 20 college credits aligned with early childhood education to replace a 20-credit short certificate in the same field.

DCYF is partnering with Imagine Institute, Child Care Aware of Washington and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges to develop community-based training sessions. Ross said this option is still in the works and would require funding.

Providers still will have five years to complete these equivalencies, he said, and can get approval for them from DCYF online.

Guadalupe Magallan, an in-home provider for 16 years in Kennewick and an informal mentor to providers throughout Eastern Washington, said the decision was exciting for providers statewide, and that the community felt DCYF was listening.

“It’s really exciting, and we’re hopeful that the people who have many years of experience will qualify,” she said. “I’m already getting questions of how soon we can find out if we qualify and what is the meaning (of each equivalency option). They’re eager to find out. It’s a good thing — people are excited about it.”

Mallagan said she knows of at least four providers in her area who have shuttered their in-home care facilities in response to the increased requirements this year. With the equivalency option available, though, she said she hopes to see the trend fade.

“I’m concerned about what that’s going to mean for the families in our area, so let’s see if this changes some minds,” she said. “I wish it came sooner, but I’m glad it’s here.”

The changes come as Yakima County has seen a decline in child care providers and openings for children, causing concern among remaining providers.

The number of licensed child care providers in the county dropped from 416 in 2018 to 336 early this year, reducing capacity by 494 spots, according to Child Care Aware data from that time. The most recent data shows 339 child care providers in Yakima County.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka