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Daycares prepare for fingerprint scans

NATCHEZ — Area day-care centers are preparing for a new state program requiring parents to give more than just their signature when picking up and dropping off their children.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services’ eChildcare program will require parents who receive government assistance for child-care costs to scan their fingerprints when picking up and dropping off their children at daycares.

DHS officials say the program will spur parents to visit preschools more often, promoting interaction with teachers, as well as saving money by, among other things, blocking centers from getting paid when children are not there.

If the state could squeeze more money out of the program, it might be able to offer vouchers to some of the 8,000 children currently on the waiting list. That list ballooned when federal stimulus money ran out, and the cutbacks caused a financial squeeze at many child care centers, forcing some of them to close.

Playschool Child Care owner Christina Logan said she has not had any complaints from parents so far about the fingerprint scanning requirement.

“It’s all kind of new to everyone,” she said.

Crowns & Tiaras Academy owner Celeste Atkins said she believes the requirement is a good thing.

“I think it will cut down on abuse of the system,” she said.

But the new program did not go over so well with all child care providers.

Delores Suel, owner of Prep Company Tutorial School in Jackson, sued the DHS, claiming the department failed to follow state law in its rule-making process to require the scanners. Suel won, forcing the department to repeat the process.

Though DHS believes it’s in the clear to go ahead, Suel filed a petition in Hinds County Chancery Court to block the department from moving forward.

Carol Burnett, executive director of the non-profit Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative in Biloxi, said she believes the scanning will deter parents from participating in the child-care voucher program.

The program requires parents and providers to go through training. Parents must also go to their county DHS office and scan a fingerprint by which DHS will check the one scanned at day-care centers, Burnett said.

“Some parents are going to be able to go do that, and some parents are not going to be able to that because they work,” Burnett said.

Child-care providers have reported technical problems with the machinery, Burnett said.

Hansel & Gretel Day Care Center in Natchez received its scanning machine, but it had to be given back to DHS to be reprogrammed.

The child-care voucher program is designed to assist working parents so they can afford child care, Burnett said.

“It’s a huge benefit so (parents) can afford child care so they can go to work, and it seems … we ought to be making it easier instead of harder for them,” she said.

Working mother and Jackson State student Whittany Franklin utilizes the voucher program to help pay for her 2-year-old son to attend Crowns & Tiaras. Franklin said she is concerned that the fingerprinting might be a burden to family members she has added to the list of people who can pick up her son from day care.

“They’re putting a deadline on it, and what if some of your household designees that you put down to pick up your child in case of an emergency cannot go (to the DHS office) to get fingerprinted?” Franklin said. “You have to think about those people working and that they may not be able to leave to do that.”

Franklin also said that if none of the fingerprinted designees are available to pick up her son in case of an emergency, then no one’s fingerprint gets scanned.

Franklin said she understands the benefits of the fingerprint scanning to parents.

“It’s safer because you don’t have just anyone picking up your child (without proper identification),” she said.

Kelly Wallace, mother of two girls who attend Crowns & Tiaras, said she does not see a problem with the fingerprint scanning requirement.

“I don’t think it’s an inconvenience; you have to check you kids in and out of daycare anyway,” Wallace said.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.