I was thinking back to the days when my daughter was in daycare 9 hours-a-day, 5 days-a-week. It was hard to leave her but she was in very good hands; especially when at 15-months-old she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Luckily we had a good relationship with our daycare provider. She was licensed and ran the business out of her home. Suddenly she was getting a quick lesson on celiac disease and gluten-free cooking.

My experience in the home daycare setting was very positive. Emma’s daycare provider saw the health troubles she was going through before her diagnosis and was happy to help when we finally figured out what was wrong with her.

Our family’s second experience with daycare was at a center starting about 5 years after Emma’s diagnosis. After staying home for a while with the kids, my job in television news was asking me to come back to work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I just needed one day of childcare. With our former childcare closed because of retirement, the easiest place for me to turn was a center. I could get the kids in fast and no worries about alternative plans for vacations or sick days.

The one catch – they wouldn’t do “gluten-free”. Well I wasn’t too worried about it in those days. It was only Fridays and Emma could bring her lunch. But my next question for the center manager was, “Then can I get a discount on my tuition since she’s not eating your food?” I was told no – “center policy”.

And this was the way it was…until I began staying home again in 2008. Emma was in third grade by then, and the only time she really had to worry about bringing lunch to daycare was in the summer. Even though the center always treated my kids great, I had always wondered if I was somehow getting the short end of the stick on this deal with Emma’s food.

Prescribed diets in daycares — legally speaking

So with absolutely no ties to daycare anymore, I emailed the Minnesota Department of Human Services this week to find out more. I posed this question of whether I should have been reimbursed and what laws daycares must follow regarding a prescribed diet.

Peggy Cunningham, Child Care Center Unit Manager with the state DHS responded to my questions. Bottom line – at least in Minnesota – the child care center must be sure your child gets the diet that is prescribed to your child. The part of Minnesota Rules, part 9503.0145, subpart 5 on prescribed diets reads:

“The license holder must provide for a child’s dietary needs prescribed by the child’s source of medical care or require the parent to provide the prescribed diet items that are not part of the menu plan…”

For your reference, child care centers are licensed under Minnesota Rules parts 9503.0005 to 9503.0170 and can be accessed through the Minnesota Revisor’s Office.

So the center workers need to make the food or tell you you need to make it and send it along.   The rule also reads, “All staff designated to provide care to the child must be informed of the diet order.” Cunningham then summarized my questions and the state’s answers for me,

“The rule does not have standards in place addressing tuition payments or a reduction in tuition under certain circumstances. Given the information you provided in your e-mail, it does not appear as though the center has violated the licensing rule.”

Does that seem like a fair system? Or do I just need to be happy they let my child eat her own food I sent with her? Sorry to sound defensive and sarcastic. But this does touch a nerve. Parents all over the country are sending their celiac children to daycare and these questions must be crossing their minds.

I know there is a whole other question of do you really want the daycare workers touching your child’s gluten-free food anyway?  Well I raise that point — only to say that’s for another post at another time.

The above rule is strictly Minnesota law; I am not sure how other states handle this one. I hope from this post it at least gives any new parents of a celiac child a place to begin in their quest for more information, either from their state or their daycare.  Some daycares likely accommodate these special diets, like my first one did.  And clearly others do not.

Are other people getting gluten-free friendly childcare accommodations?  If so, did you just get lucky and find the right center?  What suggestions do you have for parents?  Feel free to post in the comments below.

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