Owning, managing, or being a staff member at a daycare facility in Georgia places you at the heart of your community, especially in the South, where the community is everything. Your dedication and effort towards families in your community have earned you your livelihood and respect. Although many people may appreciate your work, they may fail to grasp the sacrifices along the way- the long hours, mounds of paperwork, exacting governmental demands, and, least of all, the physical toll that childcare work can take on your body.
As a licensed care provider, you understand the demanding nature of earning and maintaining your Georgia childcare provider license. Navigating the extensive state and federal laws is difficult and takes incredible dedication and attention to detail. However dedicated you may be to your job and community, mistakes and misunderstandings happen, and you may face license denial, suspension, or revocation from the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.
If you are being investigated by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (the “Department”), our Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help! We have experience navigating complex childcare laws and regulations in Georgia and know what it takes to face the state's bureaucracy. Call us today for a quick, confidential consultation at 888-535-3686 or fill out our convenient online contact form.
The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
The Georgia Department of Early Care and Licensing (the “Department”) oversees and regulates early childhood education and state care facilities. The Department also drafts and enforces care standards with complimentary resources and support to centers working on quality control issues. To ensure standards are met, the Department conducts routine inspections all over the state. Aside from processing and overseeing licensure for childcare providers, the Department offers additional programs such as:
- Early Head Start Programs
- Pre-Kindergarten Programs
- Instructional and Nutritional Support
- Summer Transition Programs
Types of Daycare Providers in Georgia
Family Child Care Learning Homes
A family Child Care Learning Home is a daycare facility that operates within a private residence in exchange for payment. These homes differ from RCCLs because they must provide care for fewer than 24 hours daily. A FCCL is characterized by the following:
- Provides care for 3-6 children under 13 unrelated to the care provider.
- The parents of these children do not reside in the same residence as care is provided.
- Providers may care for two additional children (total of 8) as long as these children are older than three years of age and care is only provided for two designated one-hour periods.
- The residence must contain an adequately enclosed and hazard-free outdoor play area. If the FCCL operates out of an apartment complex, the outdoor play area typically cannot belong to the complex.
While an FCCL operates in a home, the operators do not need to reside in the house, but they must provide copies of a current lease agreement with the landlord when submitting the application to run the FCCL. If the operator lives in a homeowners' association, they must also submit documentation showing that the daycare is not contradictory to the HOA bylaws.
To obtain an FCCL license, applicants must complete a series of pre-licensure tasks, such as:
- Completion of the Department's FCCLH licensing orientation.
- Completion of “pre-service training” approved by the Department before submitting an application.
- Completion of 10 hours of pre-service training hours.
- CPR and First Aid training for infants and children delivered in a classroom-based format and administered by a licensed professional.
- Pursuant to rule 290-2-3.07(2), possession of one of the following educational credentials:
- Child Development Associate, Technical Certificate of Credit in Early Childhood Education, Technical College Diploma in Early Childhood Education, Paraprofessional Certificate issued by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
- Criminal Background check and fingerprint.
- Non-refundable licensing fee.
- Announced or unannounced home investigation to ensure that the property complies with all health and safety requirements.
- Zoning approval letter issued from the appropriate jurisdiction.
- Proper business license.
- Affidavit of lawful presence.
If the FCCL fails to complete any of the above requirements pre-licensure or maintain them post-licensure, Rule 290-2-3-.05(b) grants the Department the authority to deny, restrict, suspend, or revoke an FCCL license. Any willful misrepresentation of the licensure requirements also results in immediate denial or revocation of license.
Child Care Learning Centers
A Child Care learning center is a recognized business entity (or individual) under Georgia law that provides childcare services in exchange for payment. Like an FCCL, a CCLC offers care for 23 or fewer hours daily. A CCLC differs from an FCCL as it must provide care for more than seven children at a time. CCLCs typically operate out of a commercial rather than a residential building. In order to obtain a CCLC license from the Department, applicants must demonstrate the following:
- Completion of the Childcare Learning Center Licensing Orientation within 24 months of applying.
- Demonstration of active and compliant registration with the Secretary of State, including proper incorporation certificate of organization, articles of incorporation, and operating agreement.
- Proof of building ownership or lease agreement. If the CCLC operates out of a residential building part of a Homeowners' Association, documentation showing that the facility's operation is allowed under the HOA's bylaws.
- Affidavit of Lawful Presence.
- Zoning Approval
- Completion of the floor and site plans with all the required details.
- Completion of all health and safety inspections, including a local Fire Marshall inspection, building certificate of occupancy, etc.
- Demonstration that a Director operates the facility with proper credentials, including all educational requirements, work history requirements, and CPR and First Aid credentials.
- Food Service Permit and Inspection.
- Criminal Records Check and Livescan competition for all directors and staff members.
- Payment of non-refundable application fee.
Failure to comply with these requirements pre- or post-licensure results in a license denial or revocation.
Georgia's Residential Child Care Licensing Unit (“RCCL”)
Georgia's RCCL processes approve and deny licenses for child-caring institutions, child placing agencies, children's transitional care centers, maternity homes, and outdoor child-caring programs. Although many applicants may confuse “child caring institutions” with daycare centers, they are not the same in Georgia. A Child Caring Institution (“CCI”) is a child welfare facility that provides “full-time room” and board to children. These licensing requirements differ from those of a general daycare operation, most notably because the rules for live-in institutions are more stringent.
What Type of Childcare Providers Are Exempt From Licensure in Georgia?
Although most childcare providers in Georgia must hold a proper license from the state, some providers may be exempt from having a childcare provider license from the Department. Programs are only considered exempt, however, when they submit and receive official approval of exempt status from the Department. Health and safety standards requirements such as zoning, fire, and building codes, and, if operating as a business, demonstrate all appropriate incorporation documents from the Secretary of State. The various categories of childcare centers eligible for licensure exemption are summarized below.
- Different types of public recreation parks, such as after-school programs or summer camps operated by a public entity.
- Private schools for minors at least five years of age or older operate for at least 7.5 hours a day, for 180 days a year.
- Accredited private schools.
- Before-school or after-school care for full-day students.
- Accredited private schools for minors who are four years old, including before-school or after-school programs for 4-year-olds.
- Programs that provide fare for no more than 4 hours a day, for a maximum of 8 hours a week.
- Programs for minors between the ages of 2-6 years old, for no more than 4 hours a day.
- Summer or holiday-break campus for minors older than five, not to exceed 12 hours each day.
- Extracurricular activities that operate no more than 10 hours a week.
- Childcare services are offered for no more than 4 hours a day, not to exceed 10 hours a week while parents are onsite.
- Programs operated by organizations with national membership, such as the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.
- LCCLs affiliated with religious schools.
- Group care programs that don't receive pay in exchange for their services.
What Type of Misconduct Places You at Risk of Disciplinary Consequences?
Most succinctly, failure to comply with any requirements for state licensure can result in disciplinary enforcement actions (discussed below). Although failure to comply with any state or federal law applicable to daycare facilities can result in a license investigation, there are some serious misconduct allegations that can result in license suspension or revocation.
Some examples of misconduct that can place your daycare license at risk include:
- Negligent or abusive behavior, including improper disciplinary methods and failure to adequately supervise children.
- Failure to comply with child-to-staff ration requirements.
- Failure to comply with health and safety regulations such as failure to secure play areas hazardous materials, maintain proper fire and smoke alarms, etc.
- Failure to ensure that all staff have appropriately passed background checks.
- Failure to provide a sanitary environment and/or follow proper food and safety requirements.
- Failure to maintain proper documentation for all staff and children.
- Failure to follow proper techniques when handling a child's medication or medical needs.
- Failure to report suspected child abuse to the relevant authorities.
- Failure to comply with requests from the Department for inspections or paperwork.
Georgia's Enforcement Actions for Licensure Violations
Georgia's Department of Early Care and Learning ensures FCCLs and CCLCs comply with the various licensing requirements through different enforcement actions such as “conferences.” If providers demonstrate serious or continued noncompliance with the rules or laws, the Department is authorized to deny, restrict, suspend, or revoke a childcare license.
Fortunately, pursuant to O.C.GA. §§ 20-1A-1 et seq., and the Rules and Regulations for Child Care Learning Centers and Family Child Care Learning Homes, Georgia, offer providers a vast amount of leeway in disciplinary matters because the Department does not automatically proceed to license suspension or revocation in every case. The various types of enforcement actions are summarized below.
A record of the violation, highlighting the exact nature of the non-compliance within the regulatory framework. These reports of violations are also accessible to the public.
Formal Notice Letters
A formal letter is issued to a facility in cases of severe or repeated rule violations, advising that corrective measures must be undertaken. This communication serves as a caution that, should compliance not be achieved, further enforcement actions may be initiated.
A formal meeting between facility representatives and department staff to discuss instances of rule violations and the necessary corrective actions. The outcomes and agreements of this discussion are meticulously documented in a letter, ensuring clear communication and accountability.
Assistance that can follow a Citation, Formal Notice Letter, Office Conferences, etc., offers guidance, information, and resources to assist a facility in meeting rule requirements. This support is provided by a consultant and tailored to ensure a comprehensive understanding and effective implementation of necessary protocols.
Cease and Desist
A formal written notice is issued to an unlicensed provider to officially mandate the cessation of their facility operation. This notice is reserved for circumstances where an unlicensed program continues to operate despite prior notification to shut down.
Enforcement Fines can be enforced in the amount of $500 per day of continued rule violation. Fines are capped at $25,000. Penalties can also be issued per rule violation in the amount of $500 per fine but not to exceed $25,000 worth of penalties.
A restriction is imposed on a license pertaining to specific services, such as transportation or age groups served. This limitation can be temporary or permanent.
A legal document utilized to establish specific requirements and/or restrictions on a licensed or registered provider. These terms are mutually agreed upon between the Department and the provider. Typically, most Consent Agreements are made publicly available after they have been duly signed by both parties.
A formal legal action that seeks to rescind a provider's license or registration. Revocation actions begin when the Department provides notice of the intent to revoke the license to the provider, as well as to the provider's clients. Revocation actions can be appealed (discussed further below). Providers are permitted to continue operations throughout the appeal process, subject to any limitations that may apply. Revocation actions are readily available to the public, absent circumstances where revocations are dismissed or overturned.
Revocation in Instances of Non-Payment or Late Payments of License Fines
In cases of non-payment of the annual license fee, the Department may initiate legal action to revoke the provider's license. The provider and their clients are notified of the Department's intent to revoke the license. In instances of appeal, the provider can continue operations, subject to applicable limitations. If the provider pays the outstanding license fee within 30 days of receiving the Revocation notice, the revocation will be rescinded. Revocations are permanently accessible to the public unless they are formally rescinded or reversed.
Revocation-Non-Payment of Enforcement Fines
A legal action similar to revoking a license for non-payment of licensure fees, but applies when providers fail to pay enforcement fines.
A legal action that denies license issuance. Prior to initiating this request, the Department informs the provider of their intent to deny the license. Denials are available to the public unless the denial is later successfully appealed.
Emergency Closure Orders
An immediate legal action temporarily closes a facility during an investigation, particularly in situations where children are in imminent danger or an unanticipated death occurs. Orders or appeals are expedited to address urgent concerns. These orders are available to the public unless the order is later successfully appealed.
Emergency Monitoring Orders
A legal action that assigns an external observer to a provider to monitor ongoing licensure violations. These orders are available to the public unless the order is later successfully appealed.
A legal document was filed in the Superior Court to formally force providers to grant entry and access for inspection purposes.
A legal action is undertaken by the Superior Court that orders a provider to cease operations.
The Complaint, Investigatory, and Disciplinary Process
We addressed the various types of enforcement actions that the Department can take above. Still, we did not discuss the procedural steps that the Department most often takes while administering disciplinary consequences. To ensure that childcare providers are treated fairly and equitably under the law, the Department must ensure that providers receive Due Process throughout the entirety of their legal proceedings. Due Process is a legal term that affords the providers the right to be notified about the allegations against them and present their side of the story prior to any legal consequences that can take away their right to operate their facility. The disciplinary process will typically occur in the following format to ensure Due Process is met.
The Complaint Phase
Disciplinary proceedings are initiated when the Department receives a complaint about the quality of care offered by a provider. Complaints can be made by anyone, including parents, staff members, or members of the public. More information on how the Department processes complaints is available to the public.
The Investigation Phase
Once the Department receives a complaint, it conducts an investigation into the matter. Throughout the investigation, they may ask to speak to the provider's operators, staff members, parents, members of the public, etc. They may conduct announced or unannounced visits and ask to review documents. At the conclusion of this investigation, the Department should know whether they plan to deny, suspend, or revoke an operating license. At this time, the Department will notify the center of their intended course of action.
As discussed above, providers may appeal against the Department's decision. Throughout this timeframe, they may be allowed to operate subject to any health and safety requirements in place. Though the nature of the appeals will vary from case to case, they all allow the provider the opportunity to present their own facts, evidence, witnesses, and testimony that contradicts the Department's findings. The presentation of these contradictory points will most likely be in the form of an administrative hearing. Although administrative hearings are not jury trials, they are still very serious and require a working knowledge of civil procedure, federal and state childcare laws, and rules of evidence.
If the provider is still unsatisfied with the disciplinary consequences after appealing the Department's decision, they may be able to file a legal appeal in the form of a civil case. Appeals are not guaranteed and depend on a wide range of circumstances. If you are attempting to challenge a disciplinary result from the Department, contact our Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today for more information on your next steps.
Fight For Your Georgia Day Care License
As an owner, operator, director, or staff member at a childcare center in Georgia, facing an investigation for misconduct violations can be incredibly daunting. The thought of fighting for your reputation is understandably intimidating, but you have worked too hard to give up so soon. However, it's crucial to remember that investigations do not invariably lead to license suspension or revocation, and there are avenues for success. Our Team's understanding of Georgia daycare facility law, our passion for our clients, and our knack for strategic defense development make us a logical tool in your battle to fight the Georgia Department of Early Care and Licensing.