Mom warned tending friends' kids is illegal
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IRVING TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Each day before the school bus came to pick up the neighborhood's children, Lisa Snyder did a favor for three of her fellow moms, welcoming their children into her home for about an hour before they left for school.
Regulators who oversee child care, however, don't see it as charity. Days after the start of the new school year, Ms. Snyder, 35, received a letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services warning her that if she continued, she'd be violating a law aimed at the operators of unlicensed day care centers.
"I was freaked out. I was blown away," she said. "I got on the phone immediately, called my husband, then I called all the girls" -- that is, the mothers whose kids she watches -- "every one of them."
Ms. Snyder said she started watching the other children this school year to help her friends; they often baby-sit for each other during evenings and weekends.
Ms. Snyder's predicament has led to a debate in Michigan about whether a law that says no one may care for unrelated children in their home for more than four weeks each calendar year unless they are licensed day-care providers needs to be changed. It also has irked parents who say they depend on such friendly offers to help them balance work and family.
Agency Director Ismael Ahmed said Tuesday that good neighbors should be allowed to help each other ensure their children are safe. Gov. Jennifer Granholm instructed Mr. Ahmed to work with the state Legislature to change the law, he said.
"Being a good neighbor means helping your neighbors who are in need," Mr. Ahmed said in a written statement. "This could be as simple as providing a cup of sugar, monitoring their house while they're on vacation or making sure their children are safe while they wait for the school bus."
Ms. Snyder learned that the agency was responding to a neighbor's complaint. Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the agency was following standard procedure in its response. "But we feel this [law] really gets in the way of common sense," she said.
"We want to protect kids, but the law needs to be reasonable," Ms. Boyd said. "When the governor learned of this, she acted quickly and called the director personally to ask him to intervene."
State Rep. Brian Calley, R-Portland, said he was working to draft legislation that would exempt situations like Ms. Snyder's from coverage under Michigan's current day care regulations. The bill will make it clear that people who aren't in business as day care providers don't need to be licensed, Mr. Calley said. "These are just kids that wait for the bus every morning," he said. "This is not a day care."
First Published October 4, 2009 12:00 am