Do you have a passion for caring for children and have a great business model but do not know where to start when licensing your daycare? Licensing can seem like a complicated process. I am going to provide you six things you need to know when becoming a licensed daycare. My goal is to give you a strong direction for starting your licensing approval journey by a licensing board in your state.
Here are the 6 things you need to know when becoming a licensed daycare:
- Caregiver Qualifications
- Physical Environment
- Number of Children per Caregiver
- Behavior Guidance
- Policies and Records
- Activities and Equipment
It must be said, no state will be exactly alike. There are commonalities across the industry addressed in this article. I will use examples from California (West Coast), Minnesota (Mid-West), and New York (East Coast). However, you will need to research further about your own state-specific licensing requirements. This article is only intended to give you a brief overview of where to begin.
1. Caregiver Qualifications
There are no extreme qualifiers for being a provider, but there are necessary considerations to follow by state. These qualifications will differ depending on the type of care provided. For example, a single caregiver will have fewer qualifications than a group family child care provider.
Single Caregiver Qualifications
When thinking about the single caregiver, there are only two qualifications:
- Must be an adult.
- Must be physically capable of caring for children.
What does this mean?
The provider must be at or over the age of majority (the threshold of adulthood recognized by law), and they must be able to manage the physical tasks of daily activities when caring for children. If the single caregiver cannot meet these qualifications, as a daycare center looking to become licensed, you should not hire them.
Group Family Child Care Provider Qualifications
The group family provider has a different set of qualifications. Due to the number of children, and the skills necessary to coordinate them, the qualifications call for more experience and education. According to ChildCare.gov, the group family care provider must have some or all of the following:
- At least one year of experience as a family child care provider.
- At least six months of experience as a licensed family child care provider (additional training by state.)
- Certifications or licenses in specific areas like child development, or a degree in K-6 teaching, etc.
These qualifications may differ from state to state and call on different degrees of experience and education. What is not in question for all states is the required background checks of all daycare providers.
Caregiver Background Check Qualifications
Part of your promise as a daycare provider is ensuring the safety of the children you care for. It is vital to make sure not only your environment is safe, but the staff too. In fact, the staff is the most important to vet for maintaining quality safety for your children. When conducting a background check, the process will include:
- Checking all adults living in-home daycare.
- Checking all daycare staff members, including directors, teachers, caregivers, bus drivers, janitors, kitchen staff, and administrative employees.
- Checking every adult volunteering in the daycare who will have unsupervised access to your child.
- Checking other adults who may come into the daycare and will have unsupervised access to your child (sports, art, dance instructors, etc.)
After you have done your due diligence in making sure your staff is right for child care, you will need to keep your staff trained. Depending on the state, training will vary.
Caregiver Training Qualifications
Again, each state will vary, for example, the training overview for the state of Minnesota begins with the following:
- Completing 6-9 hours of first aid/CPR (child-related).
- Completing 8 hours of child development/care within 1 year of initial licensure.
- Completing 8 hours of training every year in seven specified subject areas: child development, child abuse, parent-provider relationships, etc.)
Remember, the key is to research what qualifications and training your staff will need to upkeep their legal right to work as a provider and your needs for licensing approval and maintenance regarding staffing.
2. Physical Environment
When it comes to physical space, we want to think about indoor and outdoor. This includes thinking about how you plan on making sure health and safety codes are maintained for the children you will care for. Each state might have differences in their requirements per their laws and regulations; for Minnesota, there needs to be a minimum of 35 sq. ft. of usable indoor space and 50 sq. ft. of outdoor space per child. Also, the state of Minnesota calls for a park or playground to give children a place to regularly be outside (1,500 feet from the daycare).
In California, as in Minnesota, there need to be a minimum of 35 sq. ft. of indoor space. California, apart from Minnesota, requires at least 75 sq. ft. per child of outdoor play space, and family daycare homes do not require the square footage. These two are examples of the nuanced differences between states, and it is important to check your state’s physical environment requirements when considering becoming a licensed daycare provider.
Health and Safety Codes
States will require the upkeep of equipment, sanitation standards, and fire code inspections under certain circumstances. If at any point, a social service agency questions with reasonable cause to your daycare’s environment as a hazardous one, there may be grounds for fire, building, or health inspections. Making and keeping plans to address the health and safety codes of your state will overcome the licensure requirements. Once licensure is approved, the next challenge is to implement strategies for keeping your environment up to date with the codes.
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3. Number Children per Caregiver
After taking care of caregiver qualifications and environmental requirements, the next question we must answer for licensing your daycare is, “how many people do I need on staff per child?” The best answer is to never hire more staff than you NEED. Some states might have differences in their requirements based on age range and ratios.
If you were to open a daycare in New York, US, for example, caring for children between the ages of 6 weeks and nine months, the best ratio per caregiver would be (1:4) with a maximum group size of 8 per caregiver. If the age ranged between 10-12 years, the best ratio would be (1:15) with a max. of 30 children per caregiver.
It will be important, as stated early, to hire as NEEDED based on these ratios. The ratios provided are examples of New York’s requirements, but each state, as suggested across this article, will differ and always research what your state needs from you as a daycare provider to meet the appropriate requirements to become a licensed daycare provider.
4. Behavior Guidance
After you note the number of children, you will be caring for and the right amount of staffing you need to effectively meet licensing standards, you must understand the behavioral standards set by the state. For example, in Minnesota, corporal punishment (spanking, humiliation, mental abuse, or punitive interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping, or toileting) is prohibited. Caregivers are asked to help the child acquire a positive self-image, self-control, and teach socially acceptable behavior. There is also a requirement on the time-limited separation of a child from a group, which is indicated appropriately by the age of the child and the circumstances.
5. Policy and Records
The information must be accessible by parents and the licensing agency. It is critical to record everything you are doing for organizing and legitimizing your daycare into a licensed one. Sometimes policies and records can become outdated or disregarded, don’t let this happen. To mitigate problems from happening early on, think about all the questions you will need to answer for parents and a licensing agency.
To get you started, here is a strong list of questions your daycare will need to answer and record.
What are the ages, and how many children are in your care?
What hours of the day and what days will your daycare run?
What meals and snacks will be provided at your daycare?
What are the labeling requirements for food brought from the child’s home?
What will the sleeping/rest arrangements be?
What is your daycare’s nondiscrimination practices, and how will they be implemented appropriately?
What are your policies for when a child is ill?
What are your policies for immunizations and medication permissions?
What are your plans if there is an emergency, a fire, or a storm?
When will you hold your monthly required fire drill exercises?
What are your transportation and seat belt plans for field trips (permission slips, fees, food, attire, etc.)?
What does the termination notice process and procedures look like?
What are the helper and substitute plans for emergencies, vacations, field trips, and holidays?
Is there a pet policy?
What is the insurance coverage going to be?
Once you have answered these questions and others that may have popped up, make sure to train your staff on the policies to ensure they are kept up to date. There is nothing worse than having confused staff about procedures when they run into obstacles/emergencies, especially regarding the safety of the children.
The National Database for Childcare is a great resource and has an interactive state-by-state website with direct links to each state’s licensing policies. This resource will give you some best practices for securing your policies.
6. Activities and Equipment
Finally, your daycare may be required to give examples of activities you plan on practicing and playing with the children. Additionally, you may need to have a certain amount of equipment based on the number of children cared for. If you do not have an adequate or appropriate amount of equipment for all the children you will be supervising as a daycare, it may hinder your ability to acquire licensure approval. It is important to also remember the equipment used must be maintained, poor equipment can put your staff and children at risk. The goal is to reduce the exposure to hazardous conditions in the environment you are creating for your children.
Overall, you want to identify your state laws and regulations around licensing a daycare. Identify staff who will meet the required state qualifications and background checks. Find a site that will harbor the safety of the children you care for and deliver the required amount of space for both indoor/outdoor activities. Purchase equipment, record policies, agreements, and day-to-day activities.
Some states will require an orientation, which is scheduled by the licensing agency of the state you are applying in. For the state of California, they ask daycare providers to attend an orientation set by the licensing agency before they can be considered for licensing. This training can occur before registered as a business. Here is a link to California’s daycare licensing process: https://www.cocokids.org/starting-child-care-center/
Is there an all-encompassing standard that meets requirements for all states?
There is not, however, there is a National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA) which has comprehensive documentation detailing “Best Practices for Human Care”. This link to NARA: Best Practices for Human Care Regulation will direct you to their 66-page document with guidance and they identify if you have not met standards, met them, or exceeded the standards.
What does the federal background check look like when screening child care providers?
The screening and vetting process for a federal background check will begin with an FBI fingerprint check. This fingerprint check will be cross-referenced across the National Crime Information Center’s National Sex Offender Registry and other registries, repositories, and databases in the state where the staff member lives and has lived in the past five years. This includes criminal registry, state-based child abuse, and neglect registries/databases.
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
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