Ensuring a Safe Environment for County's Children
When parents and guardians take their children to child care, they want peace of mind in knowing the home or center is healthy, safe, and properly licensed. This is the mission of Hillsborough County's Child Care Licensing Division.
The Division oversees licensing of private homes, preschools and child care centers that care for children.
Child care is defined as "the care, protection, and supervision of a child for a period of less than 24 hours a day on a regular basis which supplements parental care for the child's individual needs, daily care, enrichment opportunities and health supervision, and where a payment, fee, or grant is made for care."
A thorough process ensures that standards are met for the protection of children, before the County issues a license. There are different sets of requirements for centers and private homes.
The process for licensing a center, which typically has a larger capacity, is more involved than a private home. The property must be zoned correctly, for example, and other approvals are needed on the County level before the Child Care Licensing Division pays a visit.
County inspectors must make sure the facility meets health and safety regulations, that an adequate playground area is provided, and that the center has enough bathroom facilities for the children, to name just a few requirements.
For a family child-care home to be licensed, 500 square feet of outdoor play space is needed, and the house must pass a fire inspection, among other regulations. Homeowners who live in deed-restricted communities should check their bylaws to determine whether they can use their homes to provide child-care services.
Criminal background checks are required for both child-care home and center operators, staff, and household members (for family child-care homes).
There also is a fee for licensing. The fee for a center depends upon the capacity of the facility, while family child-care home operators are charged a flat fee of $75 a year. Owners/operators need to reapply every year.
The Division's work doesn't end once a home or center is licensed. The County conducts unannounced inspections three times a year, and also investigates complaints regarding the homes or centers. A license can be revoked due to continuous violations or a case of serious noncompliance. License-holders can appeal.
Here are five tips for parents and guardians looking for a child-care home or facility for their little ones:
- Look for a place that offers healthy, social, and educational experiences under qualified supervision in a safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment.
- Make sure the home or facility you're interested in is licensed and in compliance. The County's inspection reports are public record. Review them here.
- Schedule a time to visit the home or center. Among the observations you should make:
- Observe the interactions of the staff with the children in care, making sure they are nurturing and engaging the children in activities.
- Make sure the facility is clean, with proper facilities for children, and that cots, mats and cribs are available, for rest or nap time.
- Make sure age-appropriate, and safe, toys are available, and within easy reach of the children, and that there is an adequate indoor and outdoor play area.
- Ask questions.
- Who is the director?
- How much experience and education do caregivers have?
- How many children is each provider responsible for?
- How structured is the setting?
- What is the discipline policy?
- Is transportation provided?
- Call the Child Care Licensing Division at (813) 264-3925 and ask to see the licensing files of your top two or three choices. The files contain copies of past monitoring reports, complaint investigations, and other reports relating to the legal operation of the center or home.
Watch video of 5 facts every parent should know about child care