Following the fire at a child care facility that claimed the lives of five children, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller joined state and local officials and community members in Erie on Thursday to announce efforts to enhance fire safety at all Pennsylvania child care facilities and strengthen DHS’s regulatory authority and further protect children.

This action is an important step to protecting children receiving care from licensed child care providers around the commonwealth, officials said.

“The tragedy at Harris Family Daycare on August 11 broke our hearts, and we continue to mourn with the Erie community and the families who lost their children,” Miller said. “While we can never replace the precious lives lost that day, we can decide as a community and a commonwealth to proactively pursue changes that might prevent future tragedies. That’s why I directed the Office of Child Development and Early Learning to conduct a holistic review of the department’s fire safety requirements and identify opportunities for strengthening these policies and further protecting children.”

Beginning Sept. 16, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) will require its licensing staff to include fire safety checks in every initial inspection, renewal inspection, unannounced inspection and complaint inspection. Licensing staff will require each facility operator to demonstrate an operable fire detection and prevention system, which includes the presence of operable smoke detectors on each floor of the facility and fire extinguishers in the kitchen or other cooking areas at minimum.

If an operator is unable to demonstrate such a system, DHS licensing staff will complete a complaint and deliver it to the Department of Labor & Industry or local officials. These officials have the authority to take action against the facility.

DHS also will recommend that licensed child care facilities work with their local fire safety officials to meet compliance with fire safety codes. DHS will also cite the provider for a health and safety violation.

These changes will also be codified in DHS’ child care regulations moving forward.

Throughout September, DHS is conducting a fire safety initiative call campaign to collect information from family child care providers and alert them to the department’s fire prevention efforts. This campaign will survey family child care providers about their fire prevention systems and emergency plans, including evacuation plans for children in overnight care. DHS will use the information gathered to inform ongoing efforts to enhance fire safety at Pennsylvania child care facilities.

In July, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order strengthening protections for vulnerable populations like children receiving care from licensed facilities. As part of this effort, the administration is actively reviewing regulations toward enhancing the regulatory authority of all licensing departments, strengthen standards where needed, and strengthen departments’ ability to take corrective action against non-compliant providers.

“This tragedy made clear that DHS, as the department primarily responsible for the regulation of child care facilities, should also be evaluating facilities for the presence of operable smoke detectors and fire extinguishers as well,” Miller said. “The Wolf Administration is dedicated to protecting the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, especially when facilities we license are entrusted with the care of vulnerable populations like children. We must do everything we can to avoid a future tragedy like this, and these enhanced protections will help make that possible.”

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