Evaluating Childcare Facilities

By John O’Neal

Ever wonder about the rules applying to the daycare or childcare center to where your children spend their days? In this article, we shall discuss some of the regulations applying to such facilities. There are, however, at least three types of facilities that will be excluded from our discussion of childcare facilities: drop-in or short-term childcare facilities, family childcare homes, and religious sponsored child care facilities. These facilities are subject to somewhat different requirements than “traditional” childcare facilities. Drop-in or short-term childcare facilities are those where the parents are engaged in non-employment related activities and are on the same premises or in close proximity; i.e. childcare at a health club or shopping mall. Family childcare homes are those where, at any one time, more than two but less than nine children, receive childcare. Religious sponsored childcare facilities are not required to obtain operating licenses and are therefore held to somewhat different standards than childcare facilities.

A childcare facility is generally defined as arrangement with (1) three or more preschool-age children receiving childcare or (2) nine or more school-age children receiving childcare. Some entities including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, dance studios, etc. are not considered childcare facilities. Childcare facilities must be licensed by the state of North Carolina.

The North Carolina Childcare Commission establishes mandatory standards for issuance of operating licenses to childcare facilities. These standards cover areas such as medical care, sanitation, nutrition, building safety, space requirements, staff-child ratio, staff qualifications, recordkeeping, transportation, and activities. For example, all licensed childcare facilities are required to have written policies on discipline yet only certain childcare facilities can utilize corporal punishment. Childcare facilities also must pass annual health and fire inspections upon issuance of a license. Employees of childcare facilities must undergo criminal background checks.

The North Carolina Division of Child Development, an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, issues operating licenses to childcare facilities and conducts inspections and investigations as appropriate. If a facility does not qualify for a “full” license, a provisional license can be granted along with specific reasons that a “full” license was denied. All childcare facilities are required to post their current licenses in a conspicuous place so that it is clearly visible to the public.

The Division also levies sanctions and penalties including written reprimands, fines, and revocation of operating licenses for substandard childcare facilities. The Division also pursues legal action against childcare facilities that fail to comply with state law. To learn more about the regulations covering childcare facilities, contact the Division of Child Development at or 1-800-859-0829. The Division’s web address is http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dcd/sumlaw.htm .

Ratings for licensed childcare facilities and family childcare homes can be found at http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dcd/rateruls.htm . The ratings are based upon the facility's program standards, staff education levels, and compliance history with childcare regulations. Be a careful consumer when dealing with perhaps your most precious “commodity”: your children.

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