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New Hampshire day-care centers face December deadline to comply with beefed up crib safety

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 21. 2012 9:02PM
Cassandra Caron, a teacher assistant at Alpha-Bits Learning Center in Manchester, tries to lower the side on an old-style crib. Rows of newer, fixed- side cribs are behind her. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

Day-care centers throughout the state are rushing to comply with new federal guidelines that require them to replace their cribs and dispose of the old ones.

By the end of the year, all child-care programs and licensed home-based providers must have new cribs that meet tougher federal safety standards. There is no recall of cribs for private consumers, but as one day-care operator observed, 'New cribs are probably going to be a hot item this Christmas.'

Day-care programs in New Hampshire were notified by the state in April 2011 that inspectors will be checking for the compliant cribs as of Jan. 1, 2013. Despite having more than a year to prepare, many day-care centers are only now beginning to make the change.

'That's probably because it's a huge fiscal impact,' said Denise Corvino, chief of the Child Care Licensing unit in the state Department of Health and Human Services. 'It's going to be a big impact on the programs and, honestly, on the environment if you think of all these cribs that cannot be reused.'

Several recalls

Cribs have been the target of several recalls over the years, with more than 2 million recalled in 2010 to address dangers posed mostly by the drop-side design. In June 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a ban on the sale and manufacture of drop-side cribs and imposed new standards to 'ensure that mattress supports are stronger, that crib hardware is more durable and that crib safety testing is more rigorous.'

According to the CPSC, 32 infant deaths in the past 10 years have been attributed to drop-side crib rails. In addition to banning the rails, the new rules are designed to prevent gaps between the crib mattress and the rails, and to protect against improper assembly.

It's unlikely that any crib manufactured or purchased before July 28, 2011, meets the new standards. Cribs purchased from a retailer after that date should comply with the new rules. The federal government is recommending that families replace any crib purchased before the new standards took effect.

New crib costs

While the replacement is optional for families, it's mandatory for day-care providers. With cribs ranging in price from $200 to $1,000, the costs associated with purchase, delivery, assembly and disposal of the old cribs can add up. The nation's largest for-profit chain of day-care centers, KinderCare, had to purchase 17,652 cribs for its 14,097 centers, eight of which are in New Hampshire.

The eight New Hampshire locations got 108 new cribs, all of which were installed by Aug. 7, according to Carey Kerns, a spokeswoman for KinderCare at corporate headquarters in Portland, Ore.

The Apha-Bits Learning Center, with locations on the east and west side of Manchester, is in the middle of replacing 36 cribs and disposing of its old ones. 'It was a hefty cost,' said Director Lisa Schroder, 'but it's for the safety of the children.'

At The Growing Years on Harvell Street in Manchester, Director Kitty LaRochelle had to replace 14 cribs that were less than 3 years old. 'They have arrived at the supplier, but they haven't arrived at the school yet,' she said. Growing Years hopes to have all the new cribs in place by the end of the month, at a cost of just under $5,000. LaRochelle said the school got a good price from a vendor who also agreed to assemble the new cribs and dispose of the old ones.

That may not seem like a big investment, but day-care centers operate on a thin profit margin, said Corvino at the state licensing agency: 'For a child-care program, $5,000 is a lot of money. They are not high-profit operations.'

Nonprofit day-care centers, like Noah's Ark at East Industrial Park Drive, have found the mandate particularly challenging.

'Being nonprofit, financially it was very difficult for us, but we were able to purchase the 18 cribs that we need for our center,' said Cindy Higham, executive director. 'We were able to budget more than $3,000, which does have a huge impact on providing other needs for our program.'

The new cribs arrived at Noah's Ark in August and were assembled in time for the start of the new school year. 'Volunteers helped to disassemble the old ones and used their own personal trucks to dispose of them,' Higham said.

No resale allowed

The disposal requirement virtually eliminates the secondary market for cribs. Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the CPSC, told the Chicago Tribune that his agency will be checking stores that sell new cribs, and will be monitoring eBay, Craigslist and other sites to make sure noncompliant cribs are not resold.

The Chicago newspaper is credited with prompting congressional hearings, recalls and ultimately the new standards after publishing a series of articles on infant deaths associated with bad crib design, defective hardware and flimsy parts.

The new rules have been a boon for crib manufacturers, including a Keene furniture company featured in a Sept. 23 Union-Leader article. Whitney Brothers has been working to produce more than 3,000 cribs for U.S. Army bases by the end of the year. The $866,000 order placed in May for 3,620 new cribs led the company to hire 13 more workers.

Certificate of compliance

The best evidence that a crib meets the new requirements is a certificate of compliance that lists where and when manufacturers tested their models under the new standards. The law does not require retailers to provide the certificates, but consumers can ask for them.

Day-care providers will be required to obtain the certificates and keep them on file for review by state inspectors, Corvino said.

Despite the cost and paperwork associated with the new regulations, Corvino said day-care operators for the most part have been supportive.

'I haven't met a child-care provider yet who would choose money over safety,' she said.

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