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Starting a Day Care Center

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Starting a Daycare Center

I am a 28-year-old married woman living in the District of Columbia. After working as an office manager for a local University for the last 10 years in order to pay my way through college, I will finally graduate this May with a BA in American Studies. The problem is, over the last 10 years I've learned enough about myself to know that I do not want to work in an office or do research for the rest of my life. After giving my future employment goals a lot of thought, I've decided what I'd really like to do is provide day care out of my home. Can any of your readers give me suggestions on how to pursue this idea? Ideally I'm looking for a how-to-get-started type of book and information on licensing and zoning requirements.

Before Starting a Daycare Center, Get a License

I used to work at the state office for day care licensing. Home day care also requires a license in many states to do it legally. Many things are required to meet the code. I would suggest the writer contact her county office of the state agency for more information.
Lanette R.

When I Started My Daycare Center

First things first, you were right when you mentioned legal requirements. I live in the state of WA. When I decided to do daycare, I went straight to the phone book. Start with licensing. They will give you all the information you may need to make this huge decision. Zoning, how many children you may take and at what ages, how you can get help from the Federal gov. with food cost. And how much it will cost to make your home ready for children. First aid classes are required, CPR for children and infants is required. Insurance, will your home owners insurance cover you? Most in my state would not, I had to get a separate rider on my insurance.

Taxes are another fun area, get professional advice right away, you would be self employed, and this is an area where bookkeeping is a must. I was lucky in that dept. I had been a bookkeeper prior to starting this business. In the state of WA it was the Department of Social and Health Services that provided licensing. Classes were required, then a complete home inspection. Back ground checks with the state law enforcement agency, for anyone in your home over the age of 16. My best suggestion is to find someone in your area that is already doing this and talk to them, visit them, see how it works, ask them for the good, the bad and the ugly. It's very rewarding, but also very stressful. I would say that the best is the children, the worst is dealing with some of the parents. Check out everything before you start.
Heidi in Vancouver, WA.

From a Four Year Daycare Veteran

I have owned and operated a daycare center for four years. I no longer do this due to my husband's job relocation, but it is the most rewarding career that I have had. Here are some tips:

  1. Seriously consider being a daycare provider if you truly love children and if you have the experience and patience for being with children throughout the day. Obtain childcare development skills. Choose the ages that you will care for (consider your days with infants, preschoolers, or school-aged children) and make sure you get state licensed.
  2. The best books on daycare that I have studied are from Patricia Gallagher. Her books are comprehensive and include references to state regulatory agencies.
  3. Make sure you have a daycare policy handbook, which Patricia Gallagher highlights in her books. Be firm with the policies with the parents.
  4. Through my experience I have learned that many problems will arise between the provider and the parent(s), not between provider and child!! I attest that if there is any problem that you encounter, try to "nip it in the bud" before it gets worse and affects your ability to provide great childcare.


Some Things to Think About Before Starting a Daycare Center

There are some things that need serious consideration before embarking on this new endeavor.

  1. As a day care provider you will not only be the manager, but the secretary, bookkeeper, accounts receivable collector, bottle washer (literally!), organizer, planner, referee, teacher, and counselor, to mention just of few of the roles.
  2. The days are often long. Parents need to be at work at 8:00 so you need to be prepared to accept the children into your home by 7:30 at the latest. Parents often don't get off till five which means the children will be picked up at about 5:30. This is 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, for a cost that must be reasonable.
  3. No paid vacations, medical, dental, etc. You must pay your own taxes, feed the children, and have supplies for activities available. If you have no children of your own you can write off a large portion of toy purchases as a business expense, but if you have any children at all the deduction seriously drops.
  4. You need to have an emergency backup person in case one of the children gets hurt and you must take them to the doctor. Or when you are ill and cannot provide the care you have agreed to.
  5. You must have an area that is closed in either by fence or dense hedges. There are grants to help with this but if you do not stay in business for a certain number of years you must pay back the grant amount.
  6. The maximum number of children you may provide care for where I live is six. Federal income tax, state income tax, FICA (no employer to pay a portion), food, and supplies decrease this monthly income. Not to mention any liability insurance your state may require, in addition to licensing fees and ongoing training.
  7. You must deal with the parents. This is the hardest part of the whole business. Are you ready to refuse admittance to a child that you have enjoyed because the parent hasn't paid? Are you willing, at 7:30 in the morning, to tell a parent their child cannot attend that day because they have a fever, runny nose, diarrhea, or any other multitude of childhood illnesses? Can you be firm in fairness to yourself and the other children and enforce these rules?. Can you discuss problems with the parent that the child may be causing without implying the child is a "bad seed". What if you suspect abuse of any kind at home?

Dealing with the children is a wonderful and exciting time. They open your eyes to many things that as adults, we tend to have forgotten, they see joy everywhere, and are constantly experiencing things for the first time - it's awe inspiring, fun, and exciting! And all the rest of the reality must be carefully considered.

Like I said, the hardest part is dealing with the parents. The guilt they may feel for having to leave their child will be dumped on you. When the child becomes attached to you, it may create feeling of jealousy from the parent.

Daycare is extremely important. Unfortunately, caregivers are not always treated with dignity or respect. Not only because of the bad publicity and illegal setups, but just because people don't recognize daycare as a "career."

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Some Cautions About Starting a Daycare

Number one, follow all health code rules to the letter. They make spot checks and one violation can get you a citation or closed. Number two, make up contracts for your prospective clients to sign. It should include a waiver (in case of injury), clear payment terms, vacation and any other specifics (closing time, late pick up fees, late payment fees, etc.) Don't get softhearted and babysit without one because you will be sorry later. Number three is security. All children should be signed in and out and only release the child to the parent. If someone else is coming to get the child, require an ID. I also keep a camera on hand and snap a picture of anyone authorized to pick the child up and keep a folder on each child with the pics, the contract, the medical release and insurance information, etc. In this regard you cannot be too cautious, and I haven't had any complaints about all the precautions I take. Also, check with your local children's protective service and/or health agency. They will have classes and complete information on zoning and certification. Good luck.

I Love Running a Daycare Center

For the reader who wanted to start an in-home day care, usually called a family child care home, one way to get information on licensing requirements, areas with greater need for child care, set-up advice, training, etc. is to contact the Resource and Referral office in their county. You can usually find the nearest one by looking in the phone directory, checking on the internet, or even calling a local day care and asking if they know it. This organization has helped me considerably. Most offices even have a lending library of curriculum kits and books to help you provide quality care.

This is the most rewarding employment I have ever had. I get to work from my home and I touch the lives of children in a way most people don't get to experience. This is not without challenges as well, but I believe the payoff is too great to give this up!

Not Easy to Start a Daycare Center

I am an at home care giver, and from my experience, it is a difficult field to get into. My advice is to go to the local library and research what the laws are in your state. Start small. Take on one or two children and see how you like it. It can be difficult to watch someone else's child because people have different beliefs on discipline, etc. Call local child care agencies and see what the going "rate" is per hour. It can be an extremely fulfilling career choice. I love my job. It allows me to stay at home with my two children and earn a few dollars extra for my family.
Betty in Long Island, NY

From a 15 Year Provider of Daycare Services

I have been providing care for 15 years, and I have learned a thing or two. There are two main things to be done in the early stages. First, find out which arm of the local government regulates child care, and learn all the pertinent rules. Second, go to Redleaf Press and ask for a catalog.

To save money in the beginning, I bought as much equipment and toys as I could at garage sale and thrift stores, and made sheets, curtains, pillows, doll clothes, etc. myself. Then I gradually bought new items as I could afford them.

T does not state whether or not she has a spouse with an income. If she is depending on the new business as the sole source of incame, I would suggest she work at a job long enought to save sufficient funds to keep her afloat for six months, while she builds up her clientele. While the pay is not great, working in a childcare center for a while can offer invaluable insights.

The trickiest part of setting up a childcare business is setting rates. Check out the current rates at both centers and private homes, and also calculate what you need to live on. I originally had parents pay each Friday for the previous week, but after a few years switched to a monthly fee paid in advance. This prevents a lot of problems. It is harder for parents to skip out with unpaid bills, and it makes my budgeting easier.

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Set Up Your Home Before Starting a Daycare

Please pass on to your reader wanting to start a day care center to attend a meeting of the local business women's club. Besides getting some valuable advice concerning startup costs, loans, etc she can network to pick up some ready clients when her center opens. Also, one tip I have is to be sure to have a dishwasher and 3 (three!) sinks in the kitchens. This is required by the health department. It is also helpful to have some sample menus made up in advance. The health department and children's protective services will be impressed with her forethought. She needs to also investigate how much it will cost to install video cameras in the day care center. Believe me with all the problems day care centers are having with lawsuits it will reduce the cost of her insurance if she is willing to install the cameras. If she hooks them up to the computer for internet access so parents can check on their kids during their stay that will be a big plus. That information can be obtained by visiting a local computer store. Or do like I do with some of my computer problems find a local kid who is the areas genius computer nerd. Usually for a small fee these kids are happy to help you out just to get the practice.
Rose R.

Advice from a Daycare Customer

I work part-time, and our two small children are cared for by a woman in her home during my office hours. She is more expensive than the average day care situation, but we are glad to pay her. Here are a few things we appreciate and which make the higher rate worthwhile.

  1. She takes newborns! Most places do NOT accept infants.
  2. She keeps extra diapers, wipes and ointment on hand. I never take advantage of this, of course. I always try to send extra in the diaper bag, but there are those times...
  3. I do not have to send drinks with their lunch. She provides milk and water.
  4. Every once in a while she takes photographs of the kids and gives us copies, which is invaluable!
  5. She takes the children to the farmer's market, the toddler reading time at the library, to the park, etc. (She has a van with approved car seats, etc.)
  6. She listens CAREFULLY to any concerns I have and follows through. She also respects my wishes about the kinds of stories she reads (no monsters, witches, etc.).
  7. She offered names and numbers of references, and was delighted when we asked if we could interview her in person at her home.


Reviewed April 2017

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