How Do I Start a Family Child Care Business? (Part1)

Becoming a family child care provider is not for everyone. It is not an easy job. When you welcome children into your home providing a nurturing, safe environment supporting their development, you are not “babysitting”, but providing early childhood education. Providing early childhood education is a very important job that many find to be a good fit for themselves and their family, and a fulfilling career choice.

As a family child care provider you are not only an early childhood educator, but a small business owner.

Here are some questions to consider about family child care as a career choice:

  • Do you enjoy spending extended time with children?
  • Is there an age group that you prefer engaging with, have more experience with, or knowledge about?
  • Are you comfortable working with families, having open communication on their child’s emotional, physical, and mental growth?
  • Are you comfortable working by yourself or do you prefer to work with other adults?
  • Are you comfortable being within your home as your work environment?
  • What skills do you have that will help you care for children and run a small business (for example, patience, energy, organizational skills, musical talent, etc.)?
  • Have you had personal experiences with child care? What are your feelings about those experiences?
  • Does your immediate family support the purposed usage of their home?

Notice there is no question about your level of education or if you own your own home.

To be a licensed family child care provider higher education is not required, but you do need to be at least 18 years of age. To maintain your license you will need to participate in trainings each year. That is where the available supports come in very handy providing multiple avenues of training.

You do not need to own your own home. You do however need to reside in the home that will hold the program. If renting you will need permission from your landlord.

You will also need to provide documentation of zoning/code approval from the municipality where the program is physically located. Some towns are very tight in regards to zoning. You need to check with your town office on whether a family child care program is allowed where you live. Do this at the very start of looking at the possibility of setting up a family child care business.

Still thinking becoming an early childhood educator, operating your own small business, is what you want to do for a profession?

Great!!!

First, understand that operating a family child care business is like operating any other business.

You need a business plan, an understanding of the regulations you need to meet on the state and local level, and an awareness of the support services available to you. As a potential family child care provider, you must apply for a license to operate your family child care. Meaning you have to comply with the Licensing Rule currently governing family child care programs.

Let’s start with the first information you need to know:

  • how many children you want to care for (capacity)

Your license fee is $160 (covers a 2 yr license) no matter how many children you care for. Your capacity will be determined by your space. You also want to consider what your homeowner insurance will cover and liability insurance. Maine does not require insurance, but without it you are putting your family at risk. Any cost of insurance is a business expense when you look at tax deductions.

  • your water source

If on public water, you only need a first draw water test for lead. If you have private water, you will need to get an annual general water safety test, as well as, a more extensive test every five years. You will also need to get a first draw test for lead.

  • year your house was built

Homes built prior to 1978 will need to be checked for lead. Licensing specialists perform lead hazard surveys.

DHHS will not review an incomplete application, so submit all your materials at once. What are those materials?

  • Documentation of current certification in adult, child and infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid. Both American Red Cross and American Heart are accepted.
  • A site plan of your premises that includes: indication of all areas where children will be served (floor plan) and the location of any businesses co-located on the premises. This does not need to be a professional scaled plan, but you do need measurements of areas children will be in.
  • water test from a designated lab
  • Pre-licensing training offered through Maine Roads to Quality (MRTQ) at this time. (required)

    Getting Started in Family Child Care (for new family child care providers)(6 hours) – Required by Child Care Licensing in Maine for new family child care providers. Covers the basic aspects of operating an in-home child care program.  Training is offered online. Cost is $30.

  • You will need to clear a background check. Any adult living within your residence will also need to clear a background check. (done by the State of Maine through Licensing)
  • Fire Marshall inspection of premises. They can place restrictions on the ages of children or limitations on the use of basements, specific rooms within the property, or floors above the ground level. There is no cost for this inspection.
  • As of 9/20/2017, you also need an Emergency Preparedness Plan that includes plans for evacuation in the event of a fire, natural disaster or other threatening situation that may pose a health or safety hazard to the children in the family child care. FCCAM has a complete plan with handbook and templates available for members.

Here are the application materials that you must submit to the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Child Care Application (Word | PDF)
  • Reference Form (Word | PDF)
  • Zoning and Code Compliance Letter (Word | PDF)
  • Family Child Care Pre-Certification Checklist (Word | PDF)

Here is the current Family Child Care Provider Licensing Rule, adopted September 20, 2017. Providers are able to decide how their program will meet or work within the requirements of the Rule.

So you’ve submitted your application……

It’s time to think of what you need to operate a sustainable family child care business, while complying with the Family Child Care Provider Licensing Rule.

You need a business contract for clients and a handbook of policies.

Licensing requires some policies, but many providers include additional policies that are specific to the operation of their small business. Let’s look at the required policies.

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Required by Licensing (guardians need to sign off on these):

  • Child guidance practices
  • Parental visitation at the child care site
  • Expulsion and suspension practices
  • Management of child illness
  • Emergency preparedness for natural disasters and human-caused events, including but not limited to, fire drills
  • Release of children to non-custodial caregivers
  • Mandated reporting
  • Serious injury and child death reporting.

FCCAM has examples and templates for all these required policies/forms available for members.

As part of your contract and registration to attend your program you will need to maintain information on the children in care, their guardians, and any staff or volunteers in your program.

  • Child’s name, birth date, street address and mailing address
  • Name, street address, mailing address and telephone number of the child’s legal guardian(s)
  • Places of employment, telephone number, and street address of the child’s guardian’s employers
  • Method of contacting the guardians while the child is in care
  • Name, street address and telephone number of an emergency contact other than the guardians, for use in the event of an emergency, if the guardians cannot be reached
  • Dates of enrollment and termination
  • Immunization records;
  • Names, addresses and telephone numbers of the child’s physician (Many providers also include dentist and hospital preference.)
  • Written authorization to obtain emergency medical care for the child
  • Records of all serious injuries and reportable incidents sustained by the child while in care. These need to be recorded on the same day of the injury and include the date and time of the notification of a guardian, and signed by the guardian within 48 hours of the incident.
  •  Names of individuals who are permitted by the guardians to remove the child from the premises
  • Notation of any known significant changes in the child’s appearance, hygiene, health or behavior including, but not limited to, aggression, withdrawal, sexual acting out and prolonged tantrums
  • Child’s known allergies and other health conditions, including any related health plans
  • Written permission or denial for use or distribution of images or personal information of the child on any publications, social media or promotional materials
  • A complete record if suspected child abuse or neglect is reported to the Department’s child protective intake
  • Any professional developmental assessments of the child provided by the parent, if available
  • Any relevant documentation of medical necessity
  • Written permission from the child’s guardians before allowing the child to participate in any high-risk activity.
  • If any information is missing from the child’s record, licensees must include a written explanation in the child’s record that states why the information is missing

Personnel records must include:

  • Name, street and mailing address, birth date and telephone number of the individual
  • Documentation of training, as required by Licensing rule
  • Dates of employment and termination of employees. (Documentation regarding the reasons for termination must be kept in the personnel record for at least one year.)
  • A comprehensive background check report initiated prior to the date of hire
  • Documentation of any disciplinary action.

Provider records:

  • Records of hours worked by providers (including self), including the arrival and departure time for each provider
  • Record of any volunteer hours.

General Records:

  • Daily attendance list that includes all children served, including the arrival and departure time(s) for each child.
  • Record of monthly fire drills, available for inspection by the Maine Department of Public Safety, Office of the State Fire Marshal and local fire inspectors.

This might look like a long list, but it’s all important in the operation of your business.

FCCAM has examples and templates for all this material available for members. In these examples you will also see additional areas other providers have felt were important to have in their handbooks to support their businesses.

Now, you’re a licensee, where do you go for support?

In Maine, you are lucky to have Maine Roads to Quality. You have access to trainings, technical practice support and regional peer networks. Many of the services they offer are free.

You’re here so you’ve heard of FCCAM, a statewide professional association that is all about supporting family child care providers. We have members willing to mentor, public and member only resources, professional network and ece training links. FCCAM is also the state affiliate for the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC).

There are small, local networking groups throughout the state.

Your Licensing Specialist is also there to answer questions and provide resources materials or sources.

Quality for ME (Maine’s QRIS) where licensees can work on advancing the quality of their program. Currently this program is voluntary. It is in process to have all licensees automatically on the entry Step.

MaineAEYC is the state affiliate for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Family Child Care providers are welcome to join this national early education association.

A local tax specialist or accountant that works with family child care providers. Many are happy to provide information on what is and isn’t a valid business expense.

The CACFP food program has local sponsors throughout the state. A national program to check out if you are going to be providing snacks and meals.

What about your Cost to start up?

  • Licensing: $160
  • Pre-licensing course: $30
  • water test (maximum cost is for private water source): $300 range
  • CPR training: $75 range
  • liability insurance: 8 children – $500 range
  • homeowners insurance: does not usually change much from current cost
  • *membership in FCCAM gets you templates for all the policies, handbook, contract materials: $25 (not required, but value in time saved alone, plus is a tax deduction)

You probably have most of the general equipment and if not can repurpose free or low cost materials for much of it. You do not need all new or even a large quantity. Remember all these costs of doing business are deductible.

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This series is being written to inform and inspire those who are considering opening family child care programs. Material for this series has been pulled together from a variety of resources by members of FCCAM. We have done our best to have quality sources and valid links. Please feel free to contact us at any time with specific questions. 

Next ~ Part 2: Business Plan – Budget