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.
- PA daycare/ child care programs
- How to find out if a child care programs has violations
- Head Start and preschool programs
- How does Keystone STARS fit in?
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.
To find out if a child care program has had any violations or complaints or to view the results of their inspections:
- Visit the COMPASS website, click on Search for Provider, and enter the program name. Once the listing comes up, click on the program name, which will bring you to a profile of the program. Next to the “Certification” field, click on the link that says “click for inspection history.” Here you can review their registration or certification history, results of their past inspections, and any complaints. Check out a virtual tour and instruction sheet for help.
- 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.