Editor's Note: This story is part one of a two-part series on family child care at Fort Riley, Kansas.

FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Unauthorized child care is when an unlicensed individual provides more than 10 hours per week of care for another family's child or children on a regular basis, according to Cheryl Greathouse, Child and Youth Services coordinator at Fort Riley.

"They need to be certified through the Family Child Care program," Greathouse said. "If they're not certified, it can actually jeopardize their on-post quarters."

Although there hasn't been a quantifiable increase in reports of unlicensed family child care, Greathouse and Justina Kanz, Family Child Care director, both agreed the number of reports would often come in waves. Neither CYS nor Parent Central know about unauthorized care until a complaint is made to them.

"We don't find out about unauthorized care unless it's reported to us," Kanz said. "And not everybody reports it … A lot of times we don't get the call unless it's a parent who's upset with the care they were getting and then they find out (the providers) were not even certified to do the child care."

Most of the time, parents are unaware home-based child care providers need to be certified and authorized by the proper channels before they can begin services, Kanz said.

"I've had a parent call to complain about things that were not happening in the (child care) home and that's when they found out it wasn't a licensed home," she said. "I think them finding out about how to identify a certified provider is big because this person did not know that."

It is important for Soldiers to know their kids are in safe hands under child care providers, whether they choose a day care center or family child care. By having confidence and trust on the quality and safety of care their children are getting, Soldiers can focus on performing at optimum levels to build readiness.

However, the dangers of seeking or inadvertently using unauthorized child care can pose health, developmental and possibly even safety issues to the child. These are common complaints, Greathouse said, that she received with unlicensed child care providers.

"General concerns with care, like my child's diaper is not getting changed (or) my child's clothing is dirty," she said. "Those are some of the complaints that we heard initially when somebody finds out 'oh, I'm not happy with services and I'm reporting all these' and then we find out that they were not using an authorized provider."

Currently, there are only nine licensed FCC providers at Fort Riley, according to Kanz. She is working on getting 10 more homes licensed to provide authorized care on post because each provider is unique and the CYS want Soldiers and their families to have as many choices as possible outside of group child care at Child Developmental Centers.

"Every (FCC provider's) home is different," Kanz said. "Not every child and family is going to fit with every home. We want them to have options."

When looking into an FCC provider, Kanz, who conducts monthly home inspections to all the licensed FCC providers in Fort Riley, said she looks out for balanced and structured activities for children. Unfortunately, with unauthorized care there's no regulation on active and down time.

"Some homes where I've done unauthorized home visits, there's nothing but a TV," she said.

When Soldiers and their family choose an unauthorized provider, many times families do not know if their provider has a clean background, which can pose risks. Greathouse said their FCC providers go through extensive background checks during their training.

"I think that's because the Family Child Care program does the background checks and the training, you know that you are with somebody who knows what they're doing," Greathouse said. "When you are placing with someone who's not certified, they may not be making the best choices for children. It puts a lot of burden on the parent to assess whether or not that child care providers are doing what they're supposed to be doing."

Greathouse said most of the time unauthorized child care is provided with the best intentions to help other people. However, sometimes these individuals providing help do not think about what could happen if something were to go wrong.

"The other thing that I would emphasize is that people who are doing unauthorized care, in most cases, they have great intent," she said. "If a child gets hurt, if a parent perceives that they have done something to their child -- that's a huge liability, a huge risk. I don't think everybody always stops to think what can happen in those situations."

She added another reason families turn to unauthorized child care is because of the limited spaces available at CDCs, but with recent changes they now have more availabilities.

"I think during that time frame, a lot of people were looking for alternate sources," she said. "Unfortunately some of those situations turned out to be unauthorized child care.

Those situations are reported to us and as we were investigating and talking to people that were doing childcare in their homes, they were unaware of the (FCC) program."
Greathouse and Kanz said a sure way to know if a house is a certified FCC provider -- besides requesting for their Child Development Associate credentials and/or National Association for Family Child Care accreditation -- is to look out for a "rainbow" logo on the window of the house.

"(The logo) needs to be displayed on the window of a FCC home and that's how parents know if they're using a certified home," Greathouse said.

Next week on the family child care series: how to be a licensed family child care provider.