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Before starting your childcare center, know the many regulatory systems that will affect your program and future decisions. Most states, by law, require that childcare centers be licensed. Some cities and counties may have additional licensing requirements, such as health requirements, life and safety codes, fire inspections and zoning laws. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Childcare maintains an up-do-date list of the Individual State Licensing Requirements.
Even though licensing requirements vary from state to state, most licensing regulations include the following:
- Physical Space - number of square feet needed per child for both indoors and outdoors, depending on the children's ages, lighting, heating/air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing.
- Health Requirements - annual medical examinations for staff and for children may be required; immunization records usually are required, and even if they aren't, it's an important safeguard to consider.
- Staff-Child Ratios - the minimum number of adults required for a given number of children, depending on their ages. Some states also regulate the maximum size of groups of children, in addition to specifying minimum qualifications for staff.
- Food Preparation Procedures and Nutrition
- Emergency Procedures
- Educational Program Requirements
- Record keeping
- Building Safety Regulations - may include sections on type of construction, number of exits, fire doors
- Sanitation (health) Requirements - may include sections on plumbing, requirements, food preparation and equipment, adequate ventilation in bathroom(s) and classroom(s)
- Fire Regulations (Life and Safety Code) - may include sections on posted fire drill procedures, adult-child ratio requirements, number of exits
- Zoning Regulations - may include sections on number of square feet per child of outdoor space, fence requirements, type of neighborhood where small businesses may be located
Check the zoning regulations in your area with both the local government and with any property owners or homeowners' associations to find out if the type of childcare services you are planning to provide is permitted or if there are restrictions. There may be a local childcare advocacy group or professional association that can answer your questions and help you with zoning problems.
The licensing process is also described in the licensing regulations. The following outline briefly identifies the steps involved in obtaining a license.
- Contact the licensing office in your state.
- Obtain a copy of the licensing regulations. Read them carefully.
- Arrange a meeting with licensing specialists. Go over the regulations and procedures for obtaining your license.
- Contact inspectors for building, sanitation, fire and zoning codes and arrange for them to visit your center. Remember even if your center is located in your home, you will have to meet certain safety regulations.
- Arrange for the licensing specialists to visit your center.
- Fill out and submit your licensing application once you have fulfilled all the requirements.
Since licensing regulations and procedures vary for each state, contact your local Licensing Office for specific information.
Many very successful child care centers are located in the homes of the providers. The advantages of operating a center from your home as opposed to an outside location are:
- it's less expensive
- it's convenient for the provider and generally the parents
- the overhead is lower
- it offers more flexible hours, and
- you're closer to your family
There are, however, certain safety regulations with which you must comply. To meet these requirements, you may have to make minor changes to the rooms you will be using. Before you renovate and after you finish, have the licensing specialist and building inspector visit your home. Their suggestions and recommendations can save you money.
You also are required to have adequate insurance protection for the center. If you don't already have fire and theft insurance for your home, you will need to obtain a policy. If you have insurance, make sure your current policy covers the supplies and equipment that you purchase. You will, also, have to purchase liability insurance. It will provide protection for your center, staff and children.