Iowa Childcare License Defense

As an owner, operator, director, or employee of an Iowa daycare facility, you genuinely love children and want to provide them with a safe and nurturing environment while ensuring their parents can rest easy knowing their little ones are under your care. However noble the reasons may be for someone who decides to work in childcare, every childcare worker in Iowa quickly learns that the profession is marked by strict procedures, policies, and licensing requirements that unite to keep children safe and prevent liability. Obtaining a provisional or active childcare license from the state is not easy and can be fraught with challenges unique to the Hawkeye State. Iowa's regulatory landscape for daycare facilities is intricate and requires strict adherence to state and federal laws, which can feel like an impossible labyrinth for someone without a legal background. The exacting licensing requirements combined with the constant vigilance you must demonstrate while keeping watch for changing state requirements can be exhausting, sometimes resulting in mistakes and misunderstandings that place your facility's license at risk.

If you find yourself fighting to defend what you have worked so tirelessly to build, our Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has experience standing up to the Iowa bureaucracy and can help you craft a strategic defense to challenge any accusations IDHHS may have against your facility. Contact us today by calling 888-535-3686 or filling out our convenient online contact form.

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (IDHHS) is a state agency tasked with overseeing and managing a wide array of programs and services designed to promote the health and well-being of the residents of Iowa. IDHHS is mainly responsible for overseeing the state's social and public health infrastructures to ensure they operate under federal and state law, reducing any risk and liability to the public's safety and health. IDHHS oversees several areas, including social services, public health initiatives, aging and adult services, mental health, and disability services.

IDHHS also issues licenses for Iowa state day care facilities and providers and license suspension or revocation in disciplinary matters.

What Types of Day Care Licenses Are Offered in Iowa, and How Do They Differ?

IDHHS issues and monitors three types of daycare licenses within the state, which include Licensed Care Centers, Child Development Homes, and Childcare Homes.

Licensed Centers

A licensed daycare center is typically a large business operation with “dozens of children.” Iowa daycare centers are held to strict state and federal standards. To ensure that the centers meet these standards, IDHHS staff conduct unannounced visits at these centers to ensure compliance with health and safety laws. A center's performance reports during these visits are available to the public through IDHHS to help parents gather as much information as possible before choosing a licensed center for their children. A license for licensed centers must be renewed every two years to ensure ongoing compliance. To initially earn and maintain an active license, Licensed centers must demonstrate the following:

  • Adequate floor plans that reflect the number of children at the center and safety protocols.
  • Policies for family fess, “enrollment, field trips, discipline, nutrition, and health and safety policies.”
  • Developmentally appropriate activities and curriculum for each child's age range and need.
  • Appropriate staff-to-child ratio.
  • Appropriate policies and procedures for active programs, extended evening care if offered, and food services.

Child Development Homes

A child development home in Iowa is considered a regulated childcare facility for children who receive “out-of-home” care. Children often live in these homes and may receive services such as homeschooling, medication management, or counseling. The types of homes and children who live there can vary considerably. Some homes include children placed in foster care. In contrast, others may consist of children with emotional, physical, or intellectual disabilities who require more intensive or personalized care than may be available in their homes.

Although not every home that houses children (such as a foster care home) needs an IDHHS Child Development Home License, homes housing five or more children in Iowa must demonstrate the following pre-inspection requirements before applying to receive a license as a Licensed Child Development Home:

  • Show proof of a working phone that is free to the public as well as accessible by children in the home.
  • Show proof of publicly posted numbers for emergency response teams such as the police, ambulance companies, or poison control.
  • Demonstrate safe electrical wiring that is properly maintained and safely stored combustible materials.
  • Conduct an annual lab analysis of any private water supply demonstrating appropriate bacteriological quality.
  • Maintain working and accessible fire extinguishers on each floor, as well as appropriate safety barriers around heating elements.
  • Install an appropriate amount of smoke detectors in proportion to the building's size.
  • Pass testing results for private sewer or wastewater analyses to ensure no improper leakage.
  • Pass lead assessment results for homes built before 1960.
  • Show proof of annual examinations and veterinary records for pets or animals within the home.
  • Maintain outdoor spaces that include sun and shine.
  • Install fences and/or create a barrier to hazards, pools, or busy locations.
  • Ensure proper storage of medications and any other poisonous, toxic, or unsafe materials.
  • Maintain accessible first aid supplies for children, posted fire and tornado plans, and established lockdown protocol.
  • Develop and maintain communication plans for children to speak with families and/or reunify with their families.
  • Develop procedures that reflect an understanding of children's needs within the facility and methods for assisting children with functional needs.
  • Provide separated quiet areas for children who are sick.

Some homes may also house infants who are one year of age or younger. If this is the case, pre-inspection requirements must also demonstrate that the center has proper sleeping, sitting, and transportation items to ensure their safety.

Childcare Homes

A childcare home differs from a child development home because children may stay there for a portion of the day but do not reside in the home. Under Iowa Code 237A.3, anyone who provides childcare services in their home for five or more assistance must have an active childcare license from the state. A “home” under this law section extends beyond a single-family residence. To include apartments, condominiums, townhouses, or any other building used for child care that is not considered a commercial building.

Like larger daycare centers, IDHHS also conducts unannounced visits at these homes to ensure they comply with the state's health and safety requirements. In addition to other conditions, childcare homes must also meet standards in the following areas:

  • Staff-to-child ratios.
  • Health and safety standards
  • Proper parental access to the home and their children.
  • Proper and appropriate discipline standards.
  • Proper and adequate meals, including timing and storage of food, etc.
  • Appropriate file maintenance for each child.
  • Professional development plans and performance.

How Do I Get a License To Operate a Daycare Facility In Iowa?

If you want to obtain a license to operate a childcare facility in Iowa, IDHHS offers a variety of resources for prospective permit holders to help them better understand the licensing rules and minimum standards required for licensure.

The state matches prospective permit holders with a Childcare Consultant, an IDHHS employee who assists applicants throughout the application process to ensure they submit the proper paperwork, schedule walkthroughs and inspections with the appropriate agencies, etc. The childcare consultant will first help applicants gather and present the preliminary documents for initial licensure, which include the following:

  • Fire inspection certificate
  • Building Certificate Code Review
  • Floor plan of the building
  • Child Care Center Licensing and Invoice Application Form
  • IDHSS application and regular Fee
  • Records indicating that all staff have completed and passed state and national background checks. Staff with past convictions related to sexual abuse, child endangerment, domestic abuse, forcible felonies, arson, or child pornography are prohibited under state law from working at a licensed childcare facility.
  • Written statement of the program's plan and objectives for childcare, including the program's curriculum, activities, plans to meet developmental needs, etc.
  • A copy of the fee arrangements and paperwork will be provided to parents.
  • Written policies addressing the enrollment and discharge of children and policies managing activities such as field trips, transportation, nutrition, discipline, and health and safety.
  • Written plan for ongoing training and supervision of staff.
  • Written standards for ongoing reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect.
  • Samples of a parent authorization form that the center plans to use.
  • Samples of written menus for a minimum of 2 weeks.

In addition to these requirements, the center must submit proof that all staff meet the training and safety requirements under 441 IAC §109.6(1), which includes training and certificates in CPR, First Aid, and Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse.

Application Denials and Provisional Licenses

Within 120 days of receiving an application for provisional licensure, IDHHS will notify the applicant of their approval or denial status. If the application is denied, the center will be notified of the errors on their application and have an opportunity to remedy any application defects. The center may also receive a provisional license, which allows it to operate for at most two years while simultaneously following a corrective action plan and timeline. Temporary assignments are not offered if the childcare center fails to comply with essential licensing laws and regulations that are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of children under their care.

Full Licensure Approvals

If IDHHS determines that a center meets the complete requirements for licensure, the center will receive a license for full approval and operation for 24 months. After this timeframe, an IDHSS employee will conduct another onsite visit and review protocol to ensure the childcare center remains compliant with all requirements of state and federal law.

Director Requirements for Day Care Facilities

Although all staff in Iowa Childcare Centers need to meet specific training qualifications, directors have additional qualifications under the law that they must meet. IDHSS expects every childcare center to have an official director responsible for overseeing the center's program and the health and safety of all children. All directors must be approved by an IDHHS childcare consultant and meet a variety of additional qualifications.

Firstly, directors must be at least 21 years of age and demonstrate proof of a GED or a high school diploma. In addition to this education, directors must also be competent enough to maintain the business aspect of the center and show proof of a completed course in business administration or at least 12 hours of training in essential business administration tasks such as supervision of personnel, record-keeping, and budgeting.

Although it is not necessary for directors to hold a degree in child development, they must have earned at least “100 points” in child development training within the past five years. This point system is a state-created point system that varies depending on the type of center. Sometimes, points may be waived if the director holds a bachelor's degree in child development, nursing, or a particular education field.

All directors for new and already licensed childcare centers must be approved, meaning that centers must consult with a childcare consultant before hiring a director to ensure they meet all director qualifications. Provisional licenses are available for up to one year; however, these licenses are typically granted to individuals who have demonstrated a “track record of involvement with early childhood or school-aged children.”

What Childcare Programs Do Not Need an Active License

Depending on the type of childcare program offered, some childcare centers are exempt from licensure requirements under Chapter 109 of the Iowa Administrative Code. Some of these examples include:

  • Instructional programs for pre-kindergarten students, as defined by Iowa Code §256.1.
  • Special education programs eligible under Chapter 256, which operate as prekindergarten, kindergarten, or elementary programs in public and nonpublic schools.
  • Some church-related instructional programs include Sunday school, confirmation classes, weekend youth programs, etc.
  • Short-term classes or programs that last under two weeks, such as art camps, community center programs, etc.
  • Childcare centers in the pediatrics unit of local hospitals.
  • Not-for-profit programs operated by volunteers for a maximum of 1 day a week, such as tutoring, sports, community recreational, etc.
  • Special activity or after-school programs such as Boys and Girls Club, Boy or Girl Scouts, or 4-H clubs.
  • On-site care provided in homeless or domestic violence shelters.

Do Workers at an Iowa Daycare Facility Need to Have a Degree In Child Development?

Iowa does not explicitly require staff members at a daycare facility to hold a degree in child development. However, due to the various and numerous health and safety requirements that each type of the three daycare facilities in Iowa must meet, it is common for the more extensive facilities to employ individuals with child development or social work degrees. Education and experience requirements vary from center to center, with highly sought-after centers frequently using educated and experienced staff.

Conduct That Places an Iowa Day Care License At Risk

It is crucial for daycare facilities to understand the various state and federal laws that they must consistently meet to maintain a proper Iowa-issued license. Although failure to comply with any state or federal law applicable to daycare facilities can result in a license investigation, there are some serious allegations of misconduct that can result in license suspension or revocation.

Operating Without a Valid License

Under Chapter 109, any person who establishes or continues to operate a childcare center without a valid license commits a “serious misdemeanor” and can be subject to a fine of nearly $2,000 and imprisonment.

Health and Safety Violations

As addressed above, daycare facilities in Iowa must comply with a series of health and safety regulations that are mandated under federal and state law. Failure to comply with these standards can result in license suspension and revocations. Some examples of health and safety violations may include:

  • Failure to keep a clean environment.
  • Failure to post emergency protocol and follow proper procedures for smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, secured areas, etc.
  • Failure to comply with proper food storage and preparation requirements.

Inadequate Staffing Levels or Poorly Trained Staff

Daycare facilities may also place their license at risk if they fail to maintain the proper staff-to-child ratios in their centers. Even if centers have the appropriate ratio, they must continue to ensure that their staff have the necessary licenses, which may include certificates in first aid, CPR, or food handling licenses.

Improper Supervision of Children, Abuse, and Neglect

Instances of abuse and neglect clearly qualify as conduct that can result in license suspension and revocation. Although IDHHS will thoroughly investigate every instance of alleged child abuse or neglect at a center, the center must demonstrate that they have proper reporting methods in place and that they work with IDHHS to report and terminate any employees or contractors who pose a risk to children.

The Disciplinary Process In Iowa

License Suspension or Revocation

If a daycare facility fails to comply with all ongoing licensing requirements, IDHHS can suspend or revoke a permit if corrective action is not taken. Under Chapter 109, IDHHS can initiate a disciplinary process if a center does not comply with licensing laws and regulations and fails to correct defects. IDHHS can also determine that the center poses an imminent risk to children, as may be the case if staff or directors have conducted themselves in a manner that merits prohibiting them from caring for children. This may occur in instances of sexual abuse, physical abuse, etc. Disciplinary action will also be pursued if IDHHS learns that the center has knowingly falsified documents in writing or made false oral statements about the center.

The Investigation Phase

Once IDHHS receives notice from an IDHHS employee, member of the public, or director/staff member of a daycare facility, they will conduct an internal review and determine whether they plan to deny, suspend, or revoke an operating license. At this time, IDHHS will notify the center of their intended course of action and start an investigation into the matter. They may ask to speak to staff or parents and will likely visit the daycare facility as well. IDHHS will then inform the facility of their decision.


Any center that receives notice that IDHHS plans to initiate a disciplinary action to deny, suspend, or revoke its operating license has the right to appeal the decision within 30 days of receiving notice of the adverse action.

Appeals must be strictly adhered to and meet all filing requirements under §441, Chapter 7 of the Iowa Administrative Code.

Even if the center wins the appeal, the effects can devastate its business. IDHHS notifies parents and guardians of children who attend the center that the center is currently under investigation for suspension or revocation. Although absent a court injunction, centers may continue to operate throughout an appeal period, parents and guardians may understandably choose to enroll their child elsewhere.

IDHSS may also choose to conduct a survey of parents to gain a better understanding of whether the center follows developmentally appropriate and safe practices. In these instances, the Center must comply with IDHSS by providing the state with all parent's and guardians' names and contact information.

How the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm Can Help

Our Professional License Defense Team routinely represents daycare facilities fighting license misconduct claims from the Iowa IDHHS. We understand the work and strategic planning that must be utilized to challenge the state's bureaucracy and optimize your chances of success. Working with our team will also give your center peace of mind, knowing that an equipped team is standing by to answer your questions and navigate you through the confusing IDHHS filing, investigation, and appeal requirements.

Trouble with IDHHS? Contact the Lento Law Firm Today!

If you are an owner, operator, director, or staff member at a childcare center in Iowa and your childcare license is on the line, you must obtain legal assistance immediately! IDHHS will not rest in its exacting requirements and has the entire state's bureaucracy behind it in its effort to deny, suspend, or revoke your license. Although IDHHS staff members are obligated under federal and state law to ensure that your facility is treated fairly and equitably, some IDHHS staff members may not conduct themselves or their review process per the law. Fortunately, our Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is well-versed in Iowa state daycare facility law and will help you navigate the steps ahead. Contact us today, anytime, day or night, for a consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or using our online contact form.


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