Home-based child care providers are permitted to exempt up to two children related to them from being counted toward their maximum capacity under a new law that went into effect this month, according to the Missouri Independent.

That means providers like Debbie George, who has operated a daycare in Hallsville for nearly 36 years, won’t have to leave two slots unfilled for afternoons or school breaks when her 10 and 7-year old grandchildren spend the day.

“In order for them to be here on no-school days, I had to let two families go, because I obviously wasn’t going to let my grandchildren go,” said George, later adding: “It was a huge money loss for me. And it was very hurtful to my families.”

It’s a fix advocates and providers called for soon after the state legislature in 2019 approved a bill called “Nathan’s Law.”

The bill was named after Nathan Blecha, a 3-month old who died in 2007 after suffocating at an unlicensed Jefferson County day care provider who was caring for 10 children — four of which were her own grandkids, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported. It aimed to put limits on the number of related children that in-home daycares could oversee.

But in doing so, the law accidentally prevented licensed home-based providers from exempting their own relatives.

That meant providers had to stop serving families in order to continue to care for their own, leading to frustration on the part of both providers and families they cared for.

“It was heartbreaking, because that was never what any of us advocates ever talked about. We never intended for that to happen,” said Robin Phillips, CEO of Child Care Aware of Missouri. “So the fact that at least it’s been course-corrected is a good thing, because now hopefully they can have those additional slots to have those children they had before.”

Under the new law, sponsored by Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, licensed home-based providers may care for two children five years and older who are related in the third-degree, such as a great-grandchild, and not have to count them toward the maximum limit they are licensed for. The law, which contained an emergency clause, went into effect upon receiving Gov. Mike Parson’s signature.

Nathan’s Law took over a decade to pass, with the bill hitting bumps along the way. Prior to its passage in 2019, unlicensed, home-based providers were permitted to care for four children — with no limits on the number of related children they oversaw.

The law capped the overall number of children unlicensed providers could care for at six, while exempting children living in the provider’s home who were eligible to enroll in kindergarten, elementary or high school. A maximum of three children younger than 2 years old were allowed to be cared for.

While the 2019 law wasn’t intended to impact licensed providers, they were caught in the mix. The state previously granted variances to providers on a case-by-case basis.

Some providers began to consider dropping their state-issued license, arguing that they could still care for six children and exempt their own if they were unlicensed, Phillips said.