Child Care Meeting Draws Vocal Crowd

Child Care Meeting Draws Vocal Crowd

Debate focuses on discrepancy in state, county regulations.

Child care providers, parents and concerned citizens filled the Fairfax County Board Auditorium for the Child Care Town Hall. Representatives from Supervisor Pat Herrity's office reported that more than 350 people were in attendance.

Child care providers, parents and concerned citizens filled the Fairfax County Board Auditorium for the Child Care Town Hall. Representatives from Supervisor Pat Herrity's office reported that more than 350 people were in attendance. Photo by Andrea Worker

Judging by the crowd and the occasional calls for order, the topic under discussion in the Board Auditorium at the Fairfax County Government Center was a hot one. Over 350 home child care providers, parents, and interested citizens packed the Child Care Town Hall Meeting on the evening of Monday, July 23, sponsored by Fairfax County Supervisors Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) and Michael Frey (R-Sully) and Mac Cannon, Chairman of the Child Advisory Council.

Recent changes to licensing regulations at the state level highlighted a discrepancy between state and county regulations. The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), the state authority that licenses home day care businesses, implemented a policy change requiring new applicants and providers seeking license renewal to receive approval from their local zoning administration before the license is granted or renewed.

THE CONFLICT lies in the caps imposed by the two authorities. The state of Virginia allows up to 12 children to be cared for. Presently, the zoning ordinances in Fairfax County allow for five children to be cared for in a townhouse, apartment, or mobile home setting, or seven in single-family detached dwelling. Providers wanting to care for additional children in a single-family dwelling can seek a special permit from the Fairfax Board of Zoning Appeals (BOA) at a cost of a non-refundable $1100 fee, plus any costs associated with providing the documentation required by the Board for the appeals process. Even if the applicant is successful, the maximum allowed under current zoning rules is 10 children, still less than the 12 allowed by the state.

A representative from Supervisor Herrity’s office told the Connection Newspapers that there are currently more than 200 state-licensed providers caring for 12 children in the county, in perfect agreement with their licensing agreement, but in violation of the county’s zoning codes. As the situation stands, those providers would be forced to apply for the special permit with no guarantee of success, and still have to lower the number of children they care for.


Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) had to call for order several times, when some of the attendees reacted loudly to portions of the speakers' presentations and responses.

Several providers and parents took to the microphones to object to the situation. Some of the caregivers declared that they would be forced to close their business and seek other employment if required to drop their enrollment. Parents expressed similar concerns. Parent "Vanessa" told the assembly that if a franchise-type care center became the only place left with room, she would have to quit her employment to stay at home and care for her children. "Two bodies of government have created a problem for the people. If I have to quit, welfare would be my only option. We are creating a revolving door that none of us wants," she said. "Delia" has run a state-licensed home day care for 13 years. "If they don’t fix this mess, I think they will get a lot of illegal child care going on. And that is not good for anybody, especially the kids," she worries.

Supervisor Herrity was in agreement with many of the sentiments expressed. In his opening remarks, he stated "I believe that the proposed child care regulations…are placing unnecessary strain on providers and pushing them out of business or worse, forcing providers to provide services without a license. We need to balance…a safe environment with common sense."

SPEAKERS from the Fairfax Office for Children and from the Department of Planning and Zoning were part of the panel and outlined additional proposed changes, most of which were met with a positive reaction, especially when Eileen McLane, outgoing Zoning Administrator, announced intentions of streamlining the entire application process. To cheers and applause, McLane and her successor, Leslie Johnson, told the gathering that Fairfax County would not enforce the limits against current state-licensed providers not in compliance while the regulations continue to be reviewed, unless doing so would pose a health or safety risk. The Zoning Department will sign off on the applications and renewals as they stand. The State has also agreed to leniency. Jenifer Nalli with the VDSS said that her department would renew existing licenses for their existing number of children unless otherwise notified by Fairfax County, or until the situation is fully resolved. No specific date was announced, but mid-2013 was mentioned by most of the speakers as the time when the changes could be expected to be finalized.

The meeting officially adjourned shortly after 9 p.m., but the members of the panel stayed to continue answering questions and address concerns.

In a statement released on July 24, Supervisor Herrity announced that he would be asking the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a committee meeting that day look at increasing the number of children that can be cared for without obtaining a special permit, to match the cap allowed by the State.