Michigan to Mom: Shun Daughter's Schoolmates

Michigan may be broke, but not too busy to hassle goodhearted mom.

September 30, 2009, 12:39 PM

DETROIT, Sept. 30, 2009— -- Lisa Snyder, a stay-at-home mom in rural Michigan, says she was doing her neighbors a favor by watching their kids for about 20 to 30 minutes each morning before the school bus arrived.

One by one each morning a different group of kids would arrive at her Middleville, Mich., house to wait with her 7-year-old daughter for the bus' arrival. Snyder, 35, couldn't have envisioned that her act of charity could possibly land her in jail.

But earlier this month, just days after the start of the school year, Snyder received a letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services warning that if she continued to watch neighbor's kids at her home, she would be engaging in illegal child care and face penalties, possibly even jail time.

"I was freaked out," Snyder told ABC News. "I called my husband and all the other parents. I've never done anything wrong in my entire life."

Under Michigan law, no one may provide care and supervision for unrelated children in their homes for more than four weeks a year unless they obtain a day-care providers license. Operating an illegal daycare is punishable up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail. It didn't matter that Synder wasn't charging the parents or that the so-called day care was only for a few minutes a day.

Snyder said DHS confirmed to her that a neighbor, apparently unhappy over the kids trooping to her door each morning, had called the department to report what she was doing.

Snyder says she was surprised at the complaint. The parents of children who were coming to her house were okay with what was going on, she said.

"I was always raised in a close-knit neighborhood. This is what neighbors do," said Snyder. "I feel that as a mom that used to work this was my way of helping (out the other parents)."

The controversy over the Snyder case has touched off a debate about whether Michigan should change its daycare provider laws. The issue even caught the attention of the governor, who supports changing the law.

Being a Good Neighbor

Gov. Jennifer Granholm personally called the director of the state's Human Services Department to ask that the law be amended.

"We want to protect kids, but we want to be reasonable," said Megan Brown, the governor's spokeswoman. "We feel that the law got in the way of common sense. The governor's reaction was instinctive as a mother and a parent but also as the chief executive officer of the state."

Brown said it doesn't appear that there was anything unusual going on in the Snyder case but that Human Services was just doing its job. The director of Michigan's Department of Human Services issued a statement saying he was directed by Granholm to work with the state legislature to change the law.

"Being a good neighbor means helping your neighbors who are in need. This could be as simple as providing a cup of sugar, monitoring their house while they're on vacation or making sure their children are safe while they wait for the school bus," director Ismael Ahmed said.

Snyder said she was relieved to learn the state was moving to change the law. "I'm glad that the governor finally stepped up. I'm kinda sad that it too her so long to get involved."

Even as the state moves to change the rules, Snyder hopes the law will cover kids seeing each other regularly under the supervision of a parent.

"Whenever a kid comes over, I have to ask each parent? That's retarded," she complained. "It seems like you're stopping kids from having friends."

Though Snyder did not lobby Gov. Granholm to change the law, she did reach out to her local state representative. Michigan Rep. Brian Calley is drafting legislation that would exempt people who are not engaged in official business activities from the daycare rule.

In an appearance early this week on NBC's "Today," Calley expressed surprise over the state's position. "It takes a village, but I guess in Michigan, it takes a licensed village."

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