Everyone knows daycare centers have requirements but what kind, how many and how are they regulated? When I chose to enroll my daughter in a daycare center I knew that they had certain state requirements to follow. I mostly knew because I had the pleasure of working in child care years before but little did I know how many regulations actually existed. It wasn't until I chose to open my own daycare center that I read the nearly 80 page book so many times that I memorized many of the regulations word for word. I often hear people say that daycare centers should have more stringent rules and they should be enforced strictly. Through my own personal experience i have realized that the majority of parents who choose to enroll their child into daycare do not know about this topic and are uneducated on it to the fullest. I want to educate people to understand that daycare centers do indeed have stringent policies that are regulated by each individual state and it's own standard. The standards for Arkansas are called the Minimum Licensing Requirements Child Care Centers and the pdf version of the book is available for viewing on the state website. I also have it on the Parent Education page of this website (www.lwicd.net) for quick reference.
So how many regulations are there? Are they stringent or not? How are they regulated? The first thing that you need to know is that the book is updated every so many years with the latest version of it being January 2015. The book consists of 81 pages that breakdown requirements for the process of opening a center, Director requirements, staff requirements, health and safety and much more. I can't tell you the exact number of regulations but there are plenty. Many of the regulations are actually quite stringent although my personal opinion is that there are a few that are not. For example, did you know that daycare workers must check diaper bags or backpacks everyday that they enter a classroom and remove hazardous items and medications? Also that bottles, pacifiers and individual cribs must be labeled for each child? 50% of staff must also have in-class training in CPR and first aid. Staff in licensed child care centers must meet a minimum of 15 hours per year of professional development classes in order to increase their knowledge of the Early Childhood Education field. To add to what we call "minimum licensing standards" there is also something called Better Beginnings. Better Beginnings is optional but most daycare centers are working to achieve the standards of it. You can think of it much like a hotel. Each hotel has regulations and based on how well they are they get an assigned amount of stars. A really good hotel has more stars than a lower ranking hotel. With Better Beginnings, a daycare center has to achieve higher and more strict requirements than standard minimum licensing to achieve one star. LWICD is currently at one star along with many other established centers. We are also working toward our second star which is currently a very limited option in our area. My last count was that there were no privately owned and operated child care centers that have achieved anything higher than one star in Craighead county. At which, there are several one star rated child care centers in our county. All others who are 3 star rated are what I call "government funded" programs or who have much assistance through government funding through grants, loans, etc. Examples of these type of programs are school-based pre-schools, HeadStart facilities and special needs facilities who accept payment sources such as Medicaid.To add to minimum licensing while on Better Beginnings a daycare center must improve in all areas while adding other thick books of expectations to the agenda. It is not an easy task to achieve and the assessors who enter each child care center to see how it is accomplishing each indicator being tested are much more stricter that most would think.
There are also several licensed in-home programs but they have many different and less stringent regulations than that of a licensed child care center. I do not have experience in this area but my assumption to the reason is because they are typically in one's home or living space and with only one caregiver.
For all of this to be regulated each daycare center is assigned a Child Care Licensing Specialist and if on Better Beginnings they are also assigned a Better Beginnings Specialist. These specialists can come and go as they please, always unannounced. We never know when they may enter for a routine inspection just as we do not know when the Health Department or Fire Code will enter. Specialists are generally very nice but also very educated and stern on the policies they are enforcing. They do as they should and are generally well respected for it, at least that's how all of us at LWICD feel. A routine inspection involves them entering and performing a walk through of each classroom while asking teachers questions that they may or may not know the answer to. They then may go to the playgrounds, kitchen, laundry, offices and other general areas where children may occassionally enter. They can review camera footage too if the center has cameras installed. We do, 54 of them in fact! Children's files and staff files may randomly be viewed to ensure all requirements are kept up to date. With this, immunization records are checked too. For a center that provides transportation, the van and it's records are viewed. The specialist may view a van loading, traveling and unloading while also ensuring the documentation of this is properly completed. Child care centers providing transportation also have the regulations in place to have car seats, booster seats and safety alarms installed. Refrigerator, fire drill and tornado drill logs are viewed. All of this during normal business hours with any possibility of a child having an issue that needs immediate attention, a staff member who is ill and can't come to work or a parent with a question or concern that they want to discuss. The specialist will watch interactions between staff and children and parents. The specialist may find something that truly got missed by the staff that day or that simply was forgotten. It could be something that happened only the one time or something that has taken place for an extended period of time. We once had a visit in October 2015 that took nearly 4 hours! Typically, the Child Care Licensing Specialist enters for an inspection twice a year but can come as many times as they feel is needed or when otherwise necessary through DHS.
I am proud to say that LWICD has been violation free for quite sometime now - years actually. At any point a specialist may give a violation for something they find but we will keep improving and take it as it comes in hopes that we survive the next one violation free! The challenge is to always strive to not only meet the regulations that have been set in place but to often exceed the expectations of the regulations. Upon each inspection, it is reported to a public website through DHS that has been named Child Care Search. For more information on daycare center violations you can go to the Parent Education tab on this website and click on Child Care Search.