Know the Facts
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LICENSED AND UNLICENSED CHILD CARE PROGRAMS?
As long as a child care center is licensed, it must display the current license and latest evaluation report in a prominent place. Many centers display an easy-to-read sign provided by DHR to inform parents that they meet the Minimum Standards. The purpose of licensing and inspection is to ensure the parent that their child is in a safe environment that will support their growth and development; however, Alabama is one of a few states that allows some child care programs to operate without a license or inspection.
In Alabama, nearly one-half of child care centers are not licensed or inspected by DHR, which means they are not required to meet Alabama’s Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers, which includes staff criminal background checks, staff-to-child ratios, and minimum staff education and training requirements. In other words, the child care program is not annually inspected by DHR or required to submit documentation of a fire and health department inspection in accordance with the state and local fire and health requirements. However, in Jefferson and Mobile County, the health departments inspect for health and safety issues.
Unlicensed child care programs can include:
- A program that is an integral part of a church ministry or a religious nonprofit elementary school
- A program that cares for children for four hours or less per day
- A program that is operated by another governmental agency such as a public school or military base
CAN A LICENSED FAITH-BASED CHILD CARE PROGRAM STILL TEACH RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS?
WHAT DOES BEING “EXEMPT” MEAN?
The designation of “exempt” has nothing to do with being “tax exempt” as a non-profit.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHILD CARE?
Licensed Child Care Centers provide care for infants through school-age children in various settings, including community centers, faith-based centers, and other facilities. They are annually inspected by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) to ensure compliance of Alabama’s Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers.
Licensed Family Child Care Homes and Family Group Homes are licensed by DHR if they provide care for one or more unrelated children, with or without compensation, for more than four hours in a 24 hour period. Family Child Care Homes provide care for no more than six unrelated children in the caregiver’s home while Family Group Homes provide care for no more than 12 unrelated children with two or more caregivers present.
Exempt Child Care Centers include faith-based, school-based, and other child care centers that are not licensed by DHR, but are still subject to meet Alabama’s Minimum Standards, including basic health and safety compliance and staff criminal background checks. They do not have to comply to staff-to-child ratios, or First Aid and CPR training.
Preschool/Mother’s Day Out Programs are part-time child care programs that typically operate three to four hours a day, a few days a week for children ranging from infants through four-year-olds. Programs that operate less than four hours are not licensed by DHR but must still meet Alabama’s minimum standards for health and safety.
School-Age Care can take place in child care centers, schools, and community centers. Care is typically available before and after school, school holidays, and summer vacation. School-age care often includes children in kindergarten through 13 years of age.
Relative Care includes a relative of the family caring for a child, such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle.
In-Home Child Care is care provided in the child’s home by a baby-sitter or nanny.
Early Head Start and Head Start are federal child care programs that include parent eligibility requirements to enroll. Early Head Start serves families with children pre-birth to three years of age, while Head Start serves children three to five-year-olds. Click here to find an Early Head Start or Head Start program.
First Class Pre-K is Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary pre-k program administered by the Office of School Readiness (OSR), a division of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. OSR funds First Class Pre-K classrooms for four-year-olds in various settings, including public schools, Head Start programs, and child care and faith-based centers. Click here to find a First Class Pre-K classroom.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I VISIT A POTENTIAL CAREGIVER?
Ask the right questions:
- Is the child care facility licensed? Where is the license displayed?
- If it’s not licensed, have background checks been conducted on all employees that come in contact with the children? Can I see the documentation?
- Is the child-to-staff ratio appropriate for your child’s age?
- Are the teachers educated in early childhood education? Do they receive ongoing specialized training?
- Are the teachers trained in First Aid and CPR?
- Is there an emergency/evacuation plan in place?
Use your senses:
- Is the space comfortable, clean, and safe inside and out?
- Are children busily engaged in activities?
- Do the teachers get down on the child’s level to interact?
- Are there plenty of age appropriate toys, books, art supplies and blocks?
- Do the children seem happy? Are they smiling and playing?
- Are the children being watched closely?
- Do you hear music?
- Are caregivers laughing and playing with the children?
- Take a deep breath. Is it fresh and clean?
- Does it feel inviting and warm?
- Would you want to spend the day there?
WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT “HIGH QUALITY” CHILD CARE? ALL I NEED IS A BABYSITTER SO I CAN GO TO WORK.
Basic care and concern is important, but high quality programs hire teachers who know what young children need and how they learn. These teachers recognize the importance of planning a day so that it is much more than “baby sitting” and appreciate the fact that babies and preschoolers need a different environment in order to learn. Good programs have warm, loving teachers who make the most of each day during these early years, which is a critical time for brain development.
Another part of quality is having a place where babies and children can safely move around and explore their world. High quality programs specifically design rooms to meet the needs of growing and curious babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. These rooms incorporate the right equipment, toys, books, and learning materials for each age group to keep the child stimulated throughout the day. Active play with other children and adults is how children learn best.
Last and most important, your baby is not able to take care of herself. Your child might not be able to verbalize if someone neglects or harms them. An unlicensed and unregulated program may not require all staff to pass criminal background checks. Staff may not be trained or experienced enough to know how to appropriately care for young children, and there may simply be too many children with one caregiver. In a licensed program, you know that these things have been checked, which can provide some peace of mind.
For more information on quality child care for infants and toddlers, visit the ZERO TO THREE website. To learn more about how children learn and simple things you and your family can do to support that learning visit the BORN LEARNING website and VROOM website.
HOW MANY CHILDREN CAN ONE PERSON CARE FOR AT A TIME?
|0 up to 18 months||1 to 5|
|18 months up to 2 1/2 years||1 to 7|
|24 months up to 36 months||1 to 8|
|2 1/2 years up to 4 years||1 to 11|
|4 years to school age||1 to 18|
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DHR LICENSE AND A BUSINESS LICENSE?
A child care provider that is licensed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) has been inspected by DHR to ensure that the provider meets the state’s MINIMUM STANDARDS for child care. DHR regularly inspects programs during unannounced and very thorough annual visits. Programs must prominently display the license, and many programs display an easy-to-read sign provided by DHR like the one shown on the right so parents are aware the program is licensed.