If you're a licensed childcare administrator or daycare provider in Tennessee, you have a responsibility to provide the highest level of custodial services to children in your care. As a childcare professional, you have always conducted yourself with the utmost integrity and delivered exceptional care and services to your clients. It may, then, have come as a complete shock to learn you are under investigation by the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Care Services (CCS) division.
If CCS has informed you that someone has filed a complaint against you or your childcare operation, you are rightfully concerned. Just a mere allegation of wrongdoing can ruin your reputation and livelihood, and if CCS determines the allegations have merit, you could lose your license.
You've invested a lot of time, money, and resources into getting your Tennessee childcare license, and you must use the same grit and determination to answer the charges and preserve your license and your childcare operation.
No matter the nature of the complaint, your situation is serious, and you need legal advice and counsel from an experienced childcare license defense attorney.
The Tennessee childcare and daycare license defense attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have many years of experience helping licensed childcare administrators and other licensed daycare professionals in Tennessee who face administrative action from CCS. We can review your case and advise you of your best course of action. You can turn to us for assertive legal representation to help you protect your Tennessee childcare license and achieve the most favorable outcomes possible regarding any administrative disciplinary action.
Tennessee's Child Care Services and Childcare Definitions
As a division of the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS), the Child Care Services agency is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of children in licensed care. CCS includes several services, such as Child and Adult Care Licensing, Pre-Licensure, Child Care Payment Assistance, and other programs.
CCS rules and regulations state that the primary purpose of licensing is to help ensure the protection of children. TDHS has also published the licensure rules for childcare agencies in Tennessee, which “seek to maintain the adequate health, safety, and supervision of children” who are in a licensed care setting.
TDHS defines “child care” as meeting the minimum basic needs of a child for less than 24 hours a day. It also defines a childcare agency as a place or facility that provides childcare for at least three hours per day to five or more children who are not blood-related to the childcare agency's operator. A childcare agency can be a family home or a group home. The definition of a childcare center is a facility that provides childcare for at least three hours per day to 13 children or more who are not related to the center's operators by blood or marriage.
How to Become a Licensed Childcare Provider in Tennessee
To get a license to operate a childcare center or agency in Tennessee, you must complete a series of steps that include:
- Sending an email or calling the CCS Pre-Licensure Unit and receiving forms and instructions on how to get a childcare license
- Creating an account in the Elicensing System and registering for an Orientation/Intake session
- Attending orientation and completing a pre-application screening
After completing orientation, you will then begin the Small Business Academy, which teaches you important rules, regulations, and responsibilities for running a childcare operation.
Following this, you will meet with a Program Specialist, who will conduct a walk-through of the location you intend to use as your childcare center or agency. The Program Specialist will assess the location to ensure it meets the capacity requirements and has no obvious hazards or potential dangers to children. You will then need to get various inspections that include a State Fire Inspection, Environmental Inspection, and Choose Safe Places review. You will also need to obtain a clearance letter from the Code and Zoning Board of your municipality. If required, you may also need to get any special use or occupancy permits.
Once you clear all inspections and obtain all the required clearance letters and permits, you will pay a fee to the Program Specialist. They may also submit the Intake/Grant Eligibility form to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT) on your behalf if you have met all Establishment Grant requirements.
The next step is for the Program Specialist to do another walk-through visit to ensure you have everything up to code and requirements. They may also conduct another walk-through with a Licensing Consultant (LC) and Field Supervisor (FS).
If everything passes, you will receive a provisional license, and CCS will conduct regular monitoring visits to ensure compliance with minimum standards and other rules.
Minimum Standards for Tennessee Childcare Centers and Agencies
TDHS sets minimum standards for all licensed childcare centers and agencies in Tennessee. These standards serve to ensure children receive adequate care in safe and healthy environments regardless of where they are located.
Some minimum standards for operating a childcare center in Tennessee include:
- Develop and maintain written policies regarding the center's daily operation, emergency preparedness, and other important administrative topics.
- Maintain records for every child who receives care at the facility. These include medication needs and how they're administered, immunization records, TB screenings, and other pertinent medical and physiological information about the child.
- Develop and maintain procedures for signing children in and out of childcare and tracking them throughout the day.
- Maintain admission records of each child, including their parents' contact information and home address, emergency contacts, and other important facts about the child.
Childcare facilities in Tennessee must also provide parents access to discuss issues with the center's administrator or manager. The childcare center's administration must also provide adequate training to any staff and have procedures in place to report or respond to child abuse or neglect.
Monitoring and Inspections
CCS Licensing Consultants (LC) monitor licensed childcare centers and agencies in Tennessee to ensure they comply with licensure rules, standards, and statutes. CCS will conduct at least four visits per year, three announced and one unannounced. During monitoring visits, the LC will inspect and review all major risk areas and look for safety hazards. Some things an LC will review include:
- How medication is administered
- The agency's emergency preparedness plan
- The use of Safe Sleep Practices
- Building condition and physical premises safety
- First-aid and CPR certification
- Precautions the agency uses to transport children
- Prevention and response to food allergies in children
- Supervision methods
- Background checks
If the LC notices any serious violations that are not corrected during the visit, they will schedule a follow-up visit within five days. The LC may assist the childcare center operator or administrator in completing a Plan of Corrective Action.
Background Checks for Childcare Licensing
One major component of obtaining and maintaining a childcare license in Tennessee is passing a rigorous background check. Applicants must submit background checks and fingerprinting.
Background checks are required for anyone who owns or operates a childcare agency in Tennessee, and they must be conducted no more than 90 days before the person has access to the childcare agency. All childcare agency staff members must also get background checks before being hired and have another check conducted every five years.
All members who work at a childcare center must also submit to a criminal history check. No one may obtain a childcare license or work in a childcare center if they have been convicted of or pleaded no contest to a “excludable offense.” Excludable offenses can include virtually any felony offense involving violence, sexual violations, and child abuse, among others.
Also, no one can obtain a childcare license if they were convicted of a sex crime and are listed on the Sexual Offender Registry or the Vulnerable Persons Registry, or if they have any substantiated record of having been involved in the abuse or neglect of a child.
Offenses and Violations That Could Jeopardize Your Tennessee Childcare License
Various offenses or violations can cause CCS or TDHS to take administrative action against you or your childcare operation. Some include:
- Child abuse or neglect: Since the purpose of your childcare operation is to provide care to children and provide a safe place for them to thrive, any allegations of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of a child can shut down your childcare facility almost immediately.
- Inadequate supervision: TGHS rules require a certain ratio of children to adults at a childcare facility. If you don't have enough employees to provide adequate care to the children, you could risk losing your childcare license.
- Caring for more children than allowed: Similarly, you could lose your license if found to be caring for more children than your facility or staff can handle. TDHS specifies the number of children a certain childcare facility may care for and provides standards regarding the number of staff needed and other requirements.
- Criminal convictions: If you were convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor, it could disqualify you from holding a childcare license in Tennessee. If a member of your staff was convicted, it could cause issues with whether TDHS considers your facility safe and appropriate to care for children. This is especially true if the crime involved children or violated moral standards.
- Failing an inspection: An LC will visit your childcare center regularly to inspect and monitor your operations. If you fail the inspection, the LC may offer you the chance to resolve the issues and achieve compliance. However, it could also cause you to lose your childcare license and/or close your facility.
- Sanitation violations: Your childcare facility must meet minimum sanitation requirements. Failure to meet these standards can result in administrative action.
- Building code violations. If the building that houses your childcare facility violates code or zone requirements or is in significant disrepair, the city could deem it unsafe for occupancy. This could put your license in jeopardy.
CCS may take administrative action against any childcare center or agency in Tennessee that fails to comply with TDHS minimum standards or any state laws or requirements involving childcare. In cases of criminal offenses, CCS may alert law enforcement to the offense and recommend action authorities should take to mitigate or resolve the issue.
Types of Administrative Disciplinary Actions CCS Can Impose
CCS has the authority to take administrative action against any childcare center or agency in Tennessee found in violation of requirements, laws, or standards. If an LC or other agent from CCS or TDHS determines you or your childcare center violated any minimum standards, requirements, or statutes, they can take any number of disciplinary actions against you.
As mentioned previously, an LC may devise a Plan of Corrective Action and work with you to help you comply with standards and regulations or mitigate the apparent hazard or issue. An LC may use this method in cases of minor-to-moderate violations. However, more serious offenses may warrant immediate action with more severe consequences. Along with a Plan of Corrective Action, CCS or TDHS may also impose any of the following:
- Application denial or refusal to renew your license
- License suspension or revocation, which could involve involuntary or emergency license suspension
- Fines and other administrative penalties
- Judicial Actions
Keep in mind that these consequences are not progressive. CCS may take immediate action and suspend your license immediately, for instance, if your offense or violations are serious enough. Also, subsequent violations can incur more serious actions and more severe penalties.
Investigations, Hearings, and Appeals
When CCS receives a complaint against you, they must investigate the complaint to determine whether it has merit. If they determine the complaint is valid and can substantiate it, they may take administrative action against you and impose penalties.
However, you also have the right to request an administrative hearing from TDHS. The agency must offer you due process and an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story.
To request an administrative hearing, you must file an appeals request to the Appeals and Hearings Clerk's Office in Nashville. You may do so online or in writing. It's best to work with an attorney and have them assist in completing the request and submitting it properly and promptly.
Once your request is submitted, TDHS will review it and determine whether to grant a hearing. The hearing takes place before an impartial hearing official, and each side has the right to present and question witnesses, submit evidence, and challenge or refute evidence or documents.
At the end of the hearing, TDHS will affirm the original action, modify its conditions or terms, or set aside the action.
It's vitally important you have an attorney represent you during the investigation, and especially during the administrative review or hearing, to help ensure your rights are protected and you receive the fair and just due process you deserve.
What to Do If Your Childcare License is in Jeopardy
If your Tennessee childcare license is in jeopardy because of a complaint against you or failed inspection from CCS, you should contact an experienced Tennessee childcare defense attorney immediately.
You must take the matter seriously but don't panic. You need to first get a thorough and objective review of your case from a qualified license defense attorney to learn of your rights and options. An attorney can assist in developing a strategic defense and counsel you on how to conduct yourself during the hearing.
To help your case, be sure to collect any evidence you feel could exonerate you and share that with your attorney. You should also carefully document and preserve any communications you had with the LC, CCS, or TDHS.
What Can an Attorney Do to Help Protect Your Tennessee Childcare License?
TDHS considers the health, safety, and welfare of children as a top priority. As such, the agency takes allegations of wrongdoing seriously and will impose administrative actions on alleged offenders swiftly.
You may receive harsh administrative penalties without first having the opportunity to defend yourself. Although you can request an administrative hearing, the action has already been taken, and you're behind the 8-ball, so to speak, as far as defending yourself.
However, do not despair. With the help of an experienced childcare license defense attorney, you can increase your chances of getting a favorable outcome to help you preserve your license and livelihood.
- Some ways an attorney can help include:
- Collecting and presenting exonerating evidence or reasons against the action
- Developing a strategic plan to dispute the action
- Helping you complete any necessary forms and submitting your appeal request properly
- Assisting you in meeting minimum standards or other requirements to remove license or permit restrictions
- Representing you during any investigations, hearings, or appeals
Along with helping you with the administrative and legal processes involved in trying to preserve your license, an attorney can act as your trusted advisor and confidant in a difficult and uncertain time in your life. One important intangible benefit of having an attorney is the peace of mind you can gain knowing a knowledgeable and effective legal professional is on your side looking out for your best interests.
How The Lento Law Firm Can Help
If CCS is investigating you for an alleged offense—or if you've already received administrative action from TDHS—you must contact a childcare defense attorney as soon as possible.
The Lento Law Firm's Tennessee Professional License Defense Team has helped many childcare professionals across the state with their serious administrative and licensure issues. We can:
- Evaluate your case and the nature of the complaint and help you understand your rights
- Devise a strong defense strategy to challenge it
- Represent you in all interactions with CCS or TDHS, including inspections, investigations, and administrative reviews
- Collect evidence that disputes the allegations
- Negotiate with TDHS to have your case dismissed or your restrictions or penalties reduced
- Assist you in requesting a formal hearing and represent you during the process
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has the knowledge, experience, and resources to offer you the best chance you have of obtaining the best possible results for your Tennessee childcare licensing issues. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.
Areas We Serve in Tennessee
Nashville – As Tennessee's capital, Nashville is home to nearly 700,000 people and is known for its legendary country music venues, such as the Grand Ole Opry. It is also home to Vanderbilt University.
Memphis – Another top music city, Memphis sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and is home to Sun Studios and Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. It has a population of just over 600,000, and many tourists flock to the city each year.
Knoxville – Situated on the Tennessee River, Knoxville is home to almost 200,000 residents. The downtown area has many re-purposed 19th-century buildings, and the area offers many Revolutionary War and Civil War sites and monuments. The city also hosted the World's Fair in 1982, and World's Fair Park remains a public park.
Chattanooga – Located in southeastern Tennessee in the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga offers many attractions and is a popular tourist destination. It includes the Incline Railway that scales the steep side of Lookout Mountain to take visitors to Ruby Falls and Rock City. Chattanooga has a population of just over 182,000 and is widely considered a breathtaking city.
Additionally, our childcare license defense attorneys serve professionals in other areas of Tennessee, including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Clarksville, Murfreesboro, and Jackson.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
In order to get your childcare license in Tennessee, you had to apply and complete an orientation and intake session, pass a rigorous background check, and pay fees, among other requirements.
You did so because you love children and want to offer an important service to your community. As noble as your efforts are, you have unfortunately run afoul of TDHS rules and regulations. Your Tennessee childcare license is in jeopardy, or you may have already lost it altogether.
Whatever your situation, remember that you have rights and options for possibly reversing the CCS decision or TDHS action and preserving your opportunity to continue to pursue your passion.
The Childcare License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can handle your case effectively and improve your odds of achieving the positive results you seek. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or use our automated online form for a full review of your case and advice and guidance regarding your options.