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How child care /daycare/ early learning programs are regulated in Pennsylvania

You want your child to be safe and secure when you enroll them in a daycare/ child care/ early learning program, and checking on who inspects the program is a good start.

Pennsylvania child care/ daycare / early learning programs can be regulated by the state or the federal government. It can be a little confusing – if you get confused, ask the program “who regulates you?” and ask them about their last inspection or if they have any complaints or violations. The information below should get you started.

What’s in a name? Programs serving young children may use a number of different names to describe themselves, such as day care, child care, child development center, early learning program, Head Start, preschool, or nursery school. The name doesn’t always tell you how they are regulated or the level of quality, so be sure to ask about their regulations and how they provide quality services to children.

Daycare/ Child care programs
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) regulates daycare/ child care programs (family child care homes, group child care homes and child care centers) in Pennsylvania to make sure the meet minimum health and safety standards. The regulations cover areas like

  • Safety standards for the building and classrooms;
  • Staff requirements, such as age, education level;
  • Staff to child ratios – how many staff people must be in a classroom with a certain number of children at all times (the younger the children, the more staff per classroom);
  • Classroom and playground equipment;
  • Supervision of children;
  • Nutrition and adult and child health;
  • Admissions procedures; and
  • Compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

 There are three types of child care programs regulated by DHS:

  • Family child care homes, sometimes called “in-home” child care programs, which serve between four and six children who are not related to the owner, receive a certificate of compliance from the state. They must also follow regulations for family child care homes. Pennsylvania’s child care certification representatives inspect the program before it begins operations as well as annual inspections and investigating complaints.
  • Group Child Care Homes. Serve up to 12 children if children are infants, toddlers, preschoolers or young school-agers. A group child care home serving only older school age children may have a capacity of 15 . These programs receive a certificate of compliance from the state. They must also follow regulations for group child care homes.
  • Child Care Centers (serving 7 or more children) also receive a certificate of compliance and must meet regulations for child care centers. Pennsylvania’s child care certification representatives inspect the program before it begins operations as well as annual inspections and investigating complaints.

Programs are required to post their certificate of compliance, so if you don’t see it, ask about it.

To find out if a child care program has had any violations or complaints or to view the results of their inspections:

  • Visit the www.findchildcare.pa.gov, and search by address or program name, and age of your child. Once a listing of results appears, click on the name of the program get more information, including their certification (a document issued to a legal entity permitting it to operate) and any violations.
  • Call your Regional Office of Child Development and Early Learning.

Other early learning programs

  • Head Start programs follow federal regulations and receive a comprehensive review every three years. Some Head Start programs may also be DHS–certified as child care programs.
  • Some preschools are licensed as “private licensed academic nursery schools” by the Department of Education (PDE). They have to meet regulations regarding school building and classroom space, staff requirements, instructional equipment and course of study.
  • Programs that offer Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts can either be school districts, Keystone STAR 3 or 4 child care programs, Head Start programs, or private licensed nursery schools. They follow the regulations for their programs but additional ones related to teacher qualifications, curriculum, child observation and staff:child ratios to meet the PA Pre-K Counts guidelines.

How does Keystone STARS fit in?
Keystone STARS is a voluntary program for child care and Head Start programs interested in improving quality. Keystone STARS builds upon the child care regulations. Child care programs must be DHS-certified in order to participate in Keystone STARS.

  • Brittany says:

    Do kid zones in gyms in PA need to follow these same standards? Referring to the ratio of children & sitters?

  • Kahley says:

    How do I report a In home daycare that is not license and is watching 5 kids, three 3 year olds, one 5 year old a ten month old and then her own son who is 15 months old, plus after school her three other kids come which are 14, 9&7.

  • Brown says:

    How often are 1 year olds supposed to be given meals?

  • Anita says:

    Can a classroom within a child care center become a licensed pre-K? My center has infants through entering kindergarten and I get frustrated when parents take their kids out to send them to a pre-K when we do everything here in our older preschool classrooms that happens in a pre-K! I was thinking maybe if the classroom could get licensed it would impress parents more. Is that possible?

  • Anna says:

    What are the regulations pertaining to a child’s medical information when they become enrolled into a child care program?

  • Denise Tabb says:

    If I plan on opening a private christian preschool do I need licensure from DHS? I thought christian schools were exempt from licensure.

  • Courtney Kessling says:

    Can the daycare take children on a fieldtrip without parent knowledge? Either by bus or walking from the daycare center.

  • Samantha Megaw says:

    How long after a daycare has submitted their application for inspection does it take for the state to come out? We had rushed our application about a month ago and we were given an inspection date. Now the supervisor said that she didn’t even look over our application. We have parents waiting to come back to us. Weve been in buisness for over 20 years and now since we moved to a new building it’s been a sing and dance. Please tell me theres something more we can do.

  • We have submitted the Application of Compliance to have our 4-yr-old Kindergarten program approved by DHS and are awaiting for the inspection. How can I sign up this Center approved for Keystone stars program?

  • michelle says:

    church based preschool was not watching my 4yo son properly and he walked out of fenced playground area and followed another parent out into the church parking lot. they didnt know where he was when i came to pick him up. who governs these kind of preschools and what violations did they commit by not watching my son?

    • Mary says:

      If you feel there were violations while you son was in care, you can contact your local Regional Child Development office where your child care program is located. Each regional office is assigned responsibility for facilities in specific counties in Pennsylvania. Regional office staff investigate complaints about child care centers, group child care homes, and family child care homes that do not follow the regulatory requirements for operating a facility.

      You can also use the Online Child Care Provider Search to review certification information about a provider, including the provider’s certificate status, verified complaints and inspection results. If you want more information about a provider, please contact the Regional Child Development Office that covers the county where the provider is located.

  • Don says:

    How can a facility like (removed) allow a employee to bring their significant other to work, spend the day in the class room on multiple occasions, I thought it was a locked facility for safety reasons, is this allowed? I knew someone who worked there and they allowed it to happen, don’t you have to be licensed to interact with kids? What kind of business are they running, I will not send my kid there!

  • Janiris says:

    I enrolled my 3 yo son in a preschool program and signed a contract. My two older kids attended the same school and I have always loved the school. However, before the Thanksgiving vacation, my son started complaining that he did not want to go to school. I asked the school if anything was wrong and they said no. So, I kept taking him to school, but my son’s behavior started chaining, he was getting upset about anything and crying and throwing tantrums all the time. In the mornings he would put up a fight to get dress to go to school and would not eat anything. Once again, I asked the school and they said they have not noticed anything. Nevertheless, I decided to withdraw my child from the school, but since I signed a contract and did not withdraw him within the first 60 days of school, they want to charge me $2,320 (3 months of school). I feel that is unfair and that I should not be forced to leave my son where he is apparently not happy for whatever reason. The $2,320 would be a financial burden for our family and will prevent me from putting my son in another preschool that might be more suitable for him. Is there something I can do about this situation? Where can I go for help?

    • Mary says:

      Transitions can be a challenge for children. New friends, new activities, new everything! Some children handle transition from one setting to another differently than others.

      Because you signed a contract for services, you may want to consult an attorney about your rights and responsibilities and options.

  • Keyb says:

    How do you report and file a complaint for a daycare

  • Delores Lyon says:

    I have been considering having my children go to a preschool so that they can get a head start on learning. However, I had no idea that the kids learn so much in the first five years of their life! I think that alone is enough incentive for me to sign them up for a preschool right now! I want to make sure they develop right!

  • Steph says:

    Can one child be registered at two separate day cares/ preschools?

  • Brandye says:

    I am interested in starting a summer school/camp. Offering nature activities with an emphasis on education. I am a certified teacher and a teacher friend of mine is interested in this with me. We don’t know where to start or what we need to do. Can you help?

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