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Published: Wednesday, 9/30/2009

Michigan mother sparks legal debate

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. - Each day before the school bus came to pick up the neighborhood's children, Lisa Snyder did a favor for three of her fellow moms, welcoming their children into her home for about an hour before they left for school.

Regulators who oversee child care, however, don't see her actions as charity. Days after the start of the new school year, Ms. Snyder received a letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services warning her that if she continued, she'd be violating a law aimed at the operators of unlicensed day care centers.

"I was freaked out. I was blown away," she said. "I got on the phone immediately, called my husband, then I called all the girls" - the mothers whose children she watches.

Ms. Snyder's predicament has led to a debate on whether to change a Michigan law prohibiting anyone who is not a licensed day-care provider from caring for unrelated children in his or her home for more than four weeks each calendar year. It also has irked parents who say they depend on such arrangements.

Yesterday, agency Director Ismael Ahmed said good neighbors should be allowed to help each other ensure their children are safe. Gov. Jennifer Granholm instructed Mr. Ahmed to work with the state Legislature to change the law, he said.

Ms. Snyder learned that the agency was responding to a neighbor's complaint.

Granholm spokesman Liz Boyd said the agency was following standard procedure in its response. "But we feel this [law] really gets in the way of common sense," Ms. Boyd said.

State Rep. Brian Calley (R., Portland) said he was working to draft legislation that would exempt situations like Ms. Snyder's from coverage under Michigan's current day care regulations.

The bill will make it clear that people who aren't in business as day care providers don't need to be licensed, Mr. Calley said.

Ms. Snyder, 35, lives in a rural subdivision in Barry County's Irving Township, about 25 miles southeast of Grand Rapids.

Her three-bedroom home is a designated school bus stop. The three neighbor children she watched - plus Ms. Snyder's first-grader, Grace - attend school about six miles away in Middleville.

Ms. Snyder said she started watching the other children this school year to help her friends; they often baby-sit for each other during evenings and weekends.

After receiving the state agency's letter, she said, she called the agency and tried to explain that she wasn't running a day care center or accepting money.

Ms. Snyder said she stopped watching the other children immediately after receiving the letter.

"I've lived in this community for 35 years and everyone I know has done some form of this," said Francie Brummel, 42, who would drop off her second-grade son, Colson, at Snyder's home before heading to her job as deputy treasurer of the nearby city of Hastings.

Other moms say they regularly deal with similar situations.

Amy Cowan, 34, of Grosse Pointe Farms, a Detroit suburb, said she often takes turns with her sister, neighbor, and friend watching each other's children.

"I applaud the lady who takes in her neighbors' kids while they're waiting for the bus. She's enabling her peers to go to work and get a paycheck."



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