Rule change puts some day-care pools back in the swim

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Hey, kids! Back in the water … for now.

Pool rules for day cares have been loosened by the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services after hearing an overwhelming response from family-based providers that the rules developed last month were too stringent.

On June 1, the department told all child-care providers with pools that a certified lifeguard must be on duty for their kids to swim. This forced many smaller providers to close their pools, unable to afford the extra staff.

The department amended the rule June 20. Instead of a certified lifeguard, pools smaller than 16 feet in width must have a “water safety attendant” on duty, who has taken an approved class in water safety and rescue procedures.

This was enough to get Lewiston provider Rose Pelletier’s kids back in the water.

But that doesn’t mean she’s stopped worrying.

The amended rules are only in effect for this summer. In the meantime, the department is working on permanent guidelines that will be presented to the Legislature early next year. Monday evening, child-care providers crowded a public hearing in Augusta to give their input and concerns about those guidelines.

The process was triggered after a 3-year-old drowned in a pool at a Westbrook child-care center in March, and legislators saw there were no regulations for day-care pools.

The rules in the works are expected to involve all swimming and wading activities in child-care facilities, and address staff training, pool safety rules and pool standards.

Pelletier said two proposed clauses are troubling to her: one defines day-care pools as “public pools,” meaning they have to be registered with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; the other would require a septic waste system for backwash.

Pelletier also said the Service Employees International Union has taken an interest in the issue as well, and is attempting to unionize child-care providers. Officials from the SEIU could not be reached Tuesday.

Some facilities are still affected by the amended rules. At Free to Be Me Family Child Care in Lewiston, owner Debbie Bellemare will take the training class so her kids can use her wading pools. But the new regulations will still keep the kids out of the water on field trips to a camp in Monmouth.

With 12 kids, Bellemare usually has three other adults helping her, but the new law still requires one of them to be a certified lifeguard, something she can’t afford.

“The kids are really bumming,” Bellemare said, later adding, “Just because we don’t have a lifeguard we still have plenty of coverage.”

Many of her kids are on voucher programs, and often don’t have the opportunity to take field trips.

Officials from DHHS could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Joseph Seely, aquatics director for the day-care franchise Toddle Inn, said that in a state with plenty of water, providing kids with swim instruction is the best way to keep them safe, something many day-care facilities do.

“The key is to require multiple sets of eyes on the children,” he said.

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