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Starting a Family Day Care

Child Care: How to Find a Family Day Care Center
Child Care: How to Find a Family Day Care Center

Running a family day care allows a parent to be at home with her child and earn an income simultaneously -- a seemingly ideal situation for a stay-at-home mom. But is it the right job for you? Here are the questions you need to ask yourself before you take on what could be the toughest job you'll ever love.

A family day care is more than babysitting. Spend a few days shadowing another provider to see what the daily tasks entail. In addition to providing basic child care, you must structure your day to include activities for different age groups:

  • Free play
  • Arts and crafts
  • Story time
  • Quiet play
  • Outdoor play
  • Educational activities
  • Musical activities
  • Physical activities

Of course, you also need to provide meals, nap time, and diapering or potty assistance.

If by the end of a full day you're looking forward to the next round of finger paints, you're heading into the right career.

Child-care licensing agencies often require a minimum of 35 square feet per child, as well as a safe outdoor space with age-appropriate toys and equipment. Many states require outdoor play as part of a child-care program.

You'll also need to meet safety requirements such as providing fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

Even if you have the right amount of square footage and the safest house around, keep in mind that it's difficult to confine kids to one area of the house. Your house may be overrun with toys and gear if you're not able to keep a separate space for the day care. And if you're already cramped for space, adding more toys and supplies to your home may simply be impossible.

The requirements for running a home day care vary from state to state, but a regulated family child-care home is generally allowed up to six or seven children per provider, with no more than two children under the age of 2. Group child care usually means up to 12 children are allowed with another adult assistant caregiver present. Although each state is different in its licensing and registration requirements, count on needing the following:

  • Background check: A background check and/or fingerprinting of you and every member of your household over age 18.
  • Extra insurance: Some insurance carriers allow you to purchase riders for your homeowners insurance; others have separate policies for home day cares.
  • CPR and first-aid certification: In addition to CPR and first-aid certification, some states ask for another 10-30 hours of course work in child abuse prevention training, child development, curriculum and activities, nutrition, or other health education.
  • Physical examination: A physical exam for you and periodic tuberculosis tests for your whole family.

Family day cares require quite a bit of paper pushing. First, you'll need to draw up a contract for parents that includes your policies regarding:

  • Payment
  • Fees for late payments or bounced checks
  • Sick children
  • Vacations, paid holidays, and overtime
  • Discipline
  • Scheduling

Contact your local home child-care licensing agency for a sample contract.

You'll need a separate file for each child, complete with medical information, immunization records, and emergency contact numbers. You must keep your licensing, registration paperwork, insurance information, and tax information current and organized. It helps if you have a computer to track billing and expenses. Shop around for software specially designed for running a home day care, such as Childcare Professional by Kask Software (www.kasksoftware.com).

One aspect of the business that many people underestimate is the relationship you must form with each child's parents. As in any relationship, there are bound to be disagreements. And child care is a particularly touchy subject. Discipline, potty training, sleeping, and eating are all potential areas for discord. Your communication skills must be top-notch to clarify goals and policies, and to meet your clients' expectations.

Even though you have a contract, it's inevitable that you'll have to handle the issue of late pickups and sick children. You might even need to ask a parent to take a particularly disruptive child out of your day care. In these circumstances, you must be able to handle the situation with grace.

While your own kids may benefit from having you with them all day, they may not embrace sharing their home, their toys, and their mom with other kids. And your spouse might not like the extra clutter, or fully understand that even though you're home, you can't always tend to household chores.

Some other drawbacks to running a home day care:

  • It's difficult to schedule appointments and run errands.
  • You'll miss many of your child's school events.
  • You don't get health benefits (unless you buy them yourself) or lunch hours.
  • The hours are long (many family day care providers work 10 hours a day).
  • You can't call in sick or take personal days with the same ease as you would with a traditional job (in fact, it's a major disruption for your clients).
  • It can be isolating, with little adult contact.
  • The income is not very high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average day-care providers earn $16,000 a year.
  • A large initial financial investment in home safety upgrades, insurance, toys, supplies, and equipment is required.

If caring for children sounds like it could be the career for you, bear in mind that the more professional your approach, the more successful your program. That means doing the research to become a licensed provider. The benefits of being a licensed provider include:

  • Support and practical advice to get your business up and running
  • Eligibility for funds to purchase equipment
  • Eligibility for programs that reimburse providers for food
  • Training in CPR and first aid
  • Assurance for your clients that your home meets standard safety requirements
  • Peace of mind for your clients that you have the necessary skills to care for their child

To get started, call your local child-care resource agency, listed in your yellow pages, or visit childcareware.org to learn about your state's licensing process. Contact the National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org) and request their workbook "Opening Your Door to Children: How to Start a Family Day Care Program."

Once you're up and running, join professional associations such as the National Association of Family Child Care (www.nafcc.org) to seek accreditation and stay current on the field of family child care. Its requirements exceed those of any state's licensing procedure. It will give clients added confidence in your abilities.

Additional reporting by Amy Zintl

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.