If you own, manage, or work at a child care center or home in Alabama, you probably already know about the many rules and regulations the state's Department of Human Resources (DHS) expects you and your facility to follow. From rules concerning fire safety inspections, to the layout of the indoor and outdoor areas devoted to childcare, to cleaning requirements, to caregiver requirements, and more, Alabama has a host of requirements designed to assure the safety and welfare of the children who are entrusted to your care.
If you learn that your childcare facility is the subject of an official deficiency report, it's important that you pay close attention to what the report says and what areas you need to address in order to correct the deficiencies. And if you're notified that a “corrective action” plan is being imposed on your facility or that your license or permit is being restricted or modified, you need to act as quickly as possible to correct the situation and avoid being placed on probation or having your license suspended or revoked.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has prepared this summary of issues that can affect your childcare license or permit in Alabama to give you a clearer understanding of what can happen if your facility fails to meet Alabama's Child Care Licensing and Performance Standards. If, after reviewing this, you have questions about your particular situation, call us at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation with one of our experienced license defense attorneys.
Categories of Childcare Facilities in Alabama
There are four main categories of childcare facilities that Alabama's Department of Human Resources regulates. These are:
- Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers. A Day Care Center is a “child-care facility receiving more than twelve (12) children for daytime care during all or part of a day.” A Nighttime Center is one that cares for more than twelve children “for nighttime care after 7:00 p.m.”
- Family Day Care Homes and Family Nighttime Homes. A Family Day Care Home, also called a Day Care Home, is a family home in which the licensee lives and which “receives not more than six (6) children for care during the day.” A Family Nighttime Home, also called a Nighttime Home, is “a family home which receives no more than six children for care after 7 p.m.”
- Group Day Care Homes and Group Nighttime Homes. A Group Daycare Home is a family home that receives “at least seven but no more than twelve children” for care during the day. A Group Nighttime Home is a family home that receives “at least seven but no more than twelve children for nighttime care.”
- License Exempt Day Care Facilities. These are preschool programs that are “an integral part of a local church ministry or a religious nonprofit elementary school” and meet certain other requirements under Alabama law.
Day Care and Nighttime Centers operate subject to one set of Alabama regulations, and Day Care Homes and Nighttime Homes all operate under another set. The focus of this summary is on these more regulated types of day and night childcare facilities and not on the License Exempt facilities. Note that regardless of the type of facility you are operating, if you have questions about your particular situation, whether regulated or license-exempt, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help.
Ways the State of Alabama Can Discipline Childcare Providers
There are two categories of what can be called disciplinary actions that the Alabama DHS can take against a childcare provider. These two categories are “Corrective Actions” and “Adverse Actions,” with adverse actions being the more serious.
There are three types of Corrective Actions.
- Deficiency Report. The DHS will prepare a deficiency report when an “inspection, evaluation, or investigation indicates non-compliance” with the childcare standards that apply to that type of facility. The deficiency report is discussed with the childcare licensee or with a representative of the childcare facility.
- Corrective Action. The DHS will prepare a corrective action plan when it finds that there are repeated or continued violations of childcare standards. The plan will describe each violation, how it's to be corrected, and by what date that should be done. The facility is required to report back to the DHS as it corrects each violation.
- License or Permit Restriction or Modification. Depending on the circumstances, the DHS can immediately restrict, limit, or suspend “specific activities,” the use of “specific areas,” and the allowed capacity of the facility. This is typically reserved for more extreme situations where there are uncorrected conditions that are hazardous to the health and safety of the children being cared for.
There are several types of adverse actions that the Alabama DHS can impose on a childcare facility. Adverse actions are more serious than Corrective Actions, and one consequence of any adverse action is that the childcare facility's participation in Alabama's Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) is revoked. The QRIS system is a voluntary ranking system for “early childhood care and education programs that meet a set of defined program standards,” and if a facility is removed from the system, it will not appear when parents or others use the DHR's Child Care Locator to search for Alabama child care facilities.
There are three main types of Adverse Actions.
- Probationary Status. This is similar to the Corrective Action Plan status described above, with a maximum probation period of 6 months. If, at the end of the probationary period, the facility has corrected the problems, its license will be returned to “active” status; if it hasn't, the DHS may move to revoke the facility's license, permit, or approval.
- License or Permit Revocation. Where the license holder “consistently” fails to maintain standards, violates their license or permit, or commits a number of other infractions of DHS childcare regulations, the DHS may revoke the facility's authorization. The license holder will be entitled to a hearing before any revocation is effective.
- License or Permit Suspension. In cases where the facility's violations of DHS regulations place the children being cared for at risk, the DHS may immediately suspend the facility's authorization to operate. This can happen without notice, but the licensee will have an opportunity to a hearing to contest the suspension. In cases where there is an immediate suspension, the DHS is also required to bring formal suspension or revocation proceedings against the facility.
Another type of adverse action is the reporting and prosecution of unlicensed daycare facilities. These can be reported to the Attorney General of Alabama and the local District Attorney for prosecution. A conviction for the operation of an unlicensed childcare facility is a misdemeanor and can result in a one-year jail term and a fine of up to $ 1,000.
Similarly, if anyone associated with a daycare facility refuses to allow a DHS inspector to have access to the facility, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, can be jailed for up to three months and fined up to $500.
What Standards Does the State of Alabama Expect Childcare Providers to Uphold?
The Alabama DHS expects licensed daycare facilities to meet a wide range of standards, whether the facility is a childcare center or a childcare home. While the specific standards differ between care centers and care homes, they cover similar areas, including:
- The Childcare Facility. It must pass inspection by the local fire department. Childcare centers must also pass a health department inspection, and childcare homes must agree to be inspected by the health department at the request of the DHS. Use of the facility must be consistent with any zoning laws or ordinances that may apply to the location. Indoor and outdoor areas where children are cared for must meet certain health and safety standards. If swimming or wading is part of the activities available for children being cared for, certain standards, including supervision standards, must be met. Furniture and equipment used by children in childcare centers must meet specific standards. The use of tobacco, alcohol, and “non-prescription narcotics or illegal substances” are prohibited in the facility; home childcare facilities must keep alcohol locked up.
- The Childcare Staff. Care centers must meet specific “staff to child” ratios, which vary depending on the age of the children being cared for. In all cases, children must be supervised at all times. Staff need to meet specific medical, educational, and training requirements and must pass a criminal background check. Conviction of certain types of crimes, such as sex-related crimes, felony convictions, child-abuse offenses, or other types of offenses, can disqualify a childcare worker. In childcare homes, if a family member is convicted of certain crimes, the home may be denied a license.
- The Childcare Program. The daily childcare program also must meet certain specific standards. Very young children who nap must be placed in a position to minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There are specific regulations relating to the activities of the children, how they are to be handled, when they should or should not be allowed “screen time,” what they are to be fed at various points in the day, and the variety of “experiences” that the children should be exposed to. Regulations include diapering and cleaning protocols. Disciplinary practices are also regulated, with a number of practices such as physical punishment, verbal abuse, physical restraints, withholding of food, and other practices being prohibited.
- Administration of the Facility. Each type of childcare facility is required to keep certain records relating to the operation of the facility and is required to make a number of reports to the DHS. Among other things, suspected child abuse must be reported to the DHS, as well as any injury to a child that results in professional medical treatment, and any illness that requires emergency medical treatment. A wide range of records relating to the health and background of employees and other caregivers must be maintained by the facility, as well as records relating to each child that is enrolled at the facility.
- Nighttime Care. In addition to all other regulations, care facilities that provide nighttime care to children must meet additional requirements, including ones relating to the bathing, sleeping area, hygiene, and feeding of children sleeping at the facility.
Grounds for Childcare Provider Discipline in Alabama
The Alabama DHS may discipline a childcare provider for any violation of the DHS Childcare Licensing and Performance Standards. Any time a childcare licensee “fails to meet and maintain standards prescribed by the Department,” the DHS may take corrective or adverse actions against the provider. Because of the wide scope of licensing and performance standards that apply to both childcare centers and childcare homes in Alabama, this means that child care providers must be particularly knowledgeable about what the requirements are for their type of facility and must make sure they meet all of them.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you understand how the DHS licensing and performance standards apply to your particular childcare facility. Our experienced attorneys understand the DHS regulations and can work with you to develop ways to stay on top of your obligations as a licensed childcare provider in Alabama. From Huntsville to Mobile, Tuscaloosa to Tuskegee, Montgomery to Birmingham, our attorneys are ready to assist you in making sure your facility meets or exceeds the DHS standards.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in Alabama
As much as we might like it to be the case, it's rare that simply explaining your side of the story to the DHS will make a corrective or adverse action go away. The DHS is serious about making sure that children in licensed childcare facilities in Alabama are properly cared for and their procedures exist so that they can be sure that deficiencies are acknowledged, addressed, and corrected by childcare providers. In short, the DHS wants action and not words.
This is why it can be helpful to be working with an experienced attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team. We can help you understand exactly what you need to do to remedy any cited deficiencies in our facility or operations, and where there are questions, we are able to act as your interface with the DHS so that the answers you get are as clear and complete as possible.
The Process for Disciplining Childcare Violations in Alabama
Because corrective actions don't necessarily affect your licensing status, the initial process is essentially between your facility and the DHS. Only after being cited for repeated non-compliance will you face the possibility of your license being suspended or revoked.
Disciplinary procedures generally operate as follows in Alabama:
- An inspection or investigation of your facility uncovers non-compliance with DHS childcare standards.
- The DHS prepares a deficiency report, and the DHS representative will discuss it with you.
- You will be expected to fix the deficiencies noted in the deficiency report.
- If you fail to fix the deficiencies, and the DHS inspects or investigates you again and finds that your facility still is not compliant, the DHS will provide you with a corrective action plan.
- You will have a certain period of time to remedy the deficiencies noted in the corrective action plan. You must report each correction to the DHS.
- If you fail to fix the deficiencies in the time period provided in the corrective action plan, the DHS may begin adverse action procedures against your facility. These can result in the suspension or revocation of your license. Alternatively, you may be placed on probation, which is essentially the same as being given a corrective action plan but with more serious consequences if you fail to fix the problems noted by the DHS.
- In a situation where the DHS decides to revoke your license, you'll have a chance to contest that at a pre-revocation hearing. The pre-revocation hearing will follow the requirements and procedures set forth in Alabama's Administrative Code.
- If the pre-revocation hearing does not end up with a decision in your favor, you can request a “fair hearing,” which you must do within 14 days of receiving a notice that your license has been revoked. If you meet this deadline, your license will remain in effect until 30 days after the final decision is issued after your fair hearing.
- If you've had a pre-revocation hearing, the evidence that will be considered at the hearing will be the same as the evidence introduced at the pre-revocation hearing; in other words, you won't be allowed to introduce new evidence except where you can show it couldn't have been presented at the pre-revocation hearing, or that it was unlawfully excluded at that hearing.
- In a case where you do not prevail at the hearing stage, you may be able to request a rehearing or may be able to file an appeal.
The pre-hearing and hearing will operate similarly to court proceedings; discovery requests may be made, objected to, and granted or denied; witnesses must be sworn and can be cross-examined; evidence can be introduced and objected to; subpoenas can be issued; and arguments for and against the proposed disciplinary action can be considered. Our experienced attorneys from the Lento Professional License Defense Team understand the DHS hearing process in Alabama and can help you protect your rights during hearings as well as any re-hearings or appeals.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the State of Alabama in Connection With Your Childcare Facility?
As noted above, if your facility is subject to an adverse action, you'll be removed from Alabama's QRIS system, which is a centralized directory of childcare providers in Alabama. If your license is suspended or revoked, you will not be able to care for children until your license is restored. And if you continue to operate even without an active license, you risk being charged with a misdemeanor and will face both jail time and a fine.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
Our experienced attorneys understand the detailed childcare facility regulations that regulate how you can operate your licensed childcare facility in Alabama. We regularly advise childcare providers all over the country and are ready to help you as well. Whether you are involved with a care center, a group care home, or a family care home, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you every step of the way. But in particular, if you've been cited by the DHS for violating any of its care facility regulations, we can work with you and the DHS to make sure those violations are quickly remedied, and the fix is promptly reported to the DHS.
If you're facing more serious issues, such as a potential suspension or revocation of your license, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team will help you protect your rights in any administrative pre-hearing or hearing. We can also act as your interface with the DHS where there are questions about how to comply or where you've made a genuine attempt to fix issues but perhaps need additional time to comply.
What's important is that you contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team as soon as the DHS notifies you that you are the subject of a disciplinary action that could lead to you losing your ability to operate your childcare facility. Call us at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. We know how important your childcare facility is to you, and our experienced attorneys are here to listen and help!