Operating a licensed childcare facility in Minnesota can be a challenge. Just to get to the point where you are able to accept children for your child care center or family child care program, you need to understand the rules and regulations that apply to your particular type of facility, undergo background checks and site inspections, apply for and get your license, and make sure that you follow Minnesota's many laws and rules that relate to your type of facility. And if you are inspected by the state Department of Human Services' Licensing Division (for child care centers) or by your county (for family child care programs) and learn that a “negative action” is being issued against you, you need the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understands child care licensing and the sanctions process in Minnesota. Contact us at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation to learn more about us and how we can help you keep caring for children.
Categories of Child Care Facilities in Minnesota
There are three main categories of childcare facilities in Minnesota. Two of them require licenses, and the third is exempt.
- Child Care Centers. These are usually larger facilities, often located in a non-residential type of building. These types of facilities can care for anywhere from up to 8 infants to up to 30 school-age children and must meet specific staff-to-child ratios for each of the four age categories (infant, toddler, preschooler, and school-age). Child Care Centers must be licensed by
- Family Child Care Programs. These are smaller and are often run out of the caregiver's home. There are two categories of Family Child Care programs: Family Day Care programs can care for up to 10 children aged ten or younger at one time, and Group Family Day Care programs can care for up to 14 children. There are specific child/adult ratios that apply depending on the ages of the children being cared for.
- Certified Child Care Centers. These are childcare programs that are exempt from Minnesota's licensing requirements but must still meet a range of health and safety standards. They are certified and monitored by the DHS if they participate in the state's Child Care Assistance Program, which helps low-income working families pay for child care. Examples include public school-operated after-school programs for children aged 33 months or older; park system-related recreation programs; programs for school-age children operated by a YMCA, YWCA, or JCC; Head Start programs that operate for fewer than 45 days per year; scouting programs; day camps; an accredited child care programs operated by non-public school for no more than four hours per day and serving children 33 months or older.
While this informational summary will focus on licensed child care facilities in Minnesota, if your certified facility is at risk of losing its certification for any reason, or if you have questions about the certification process or about how to comply with the DHS's health and safety requirements, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you too.
Ways the State of Minnesota Can Discipline Child Care Providers
The DHS has a range of options when it comes to sanctioning licensed childcare facilities. These include the following:
- Fix-It Tickets. These are often issued during an inspection when the license holder has failed to comply with licensing requirements that don't immediately endanger the health or safety of the children being cared for. If the violations are corrected while the inspector is on-site or within 48 hours, they won't receive a Correction Order for the corrected violations.
- Correction Orders. These are issued when an inspection reveals license violations that aren't immediately corrected but that don't “imminently endanger” the health or safety of the children at the facility. The order will identify the violations, specify the corrections that must take place, and will typically require the license holder to correct the deficiencies immediately. If you disagree with a Correction Order, you can ask the DHS to reconsider parts that you believe are mistaken. There are specific procedures and requirements for reconsideration requests.
Fix-It Tickets and Correction Orders are relatively minor situations, and in most cases, you should be able to resolve the deficiency in a short period of time and with no impact on your license. More serious sanctions include the following, all of which can be appealed:
- Conditional License. This is a form of probationary sanction that requires the licensed facility to meet specific terms and conditions if it is to continue to operate. Similar to a Correction Order, it must identify the condition that needs to be corrected, what law or rule was violated, how much time the license holder has to correct the problem, and for how long the conditional license will be in effect.
- Fines. These can range from $100 to $5000, depending on the severity of the violation.
- Suspension. If your license is suspended, your facility's license won't be reinstated, and you won't be allowed to care for children until the facility meets the conditions or requirements described in the suspension.
- Temporary Immediate Suspension. This can occur when the inspector identifies a violation that creates an imminent risk of harm to the children in your care or if you are criminally charged with defrauding the DHS. Your facility will have to stop operating at once, and you'll remain closed until the DHS or county completes its investigation into the problem. The DHS has 90 days to complete the investigation and determine whether any additional sanctions will be issued; in the meantime, you'll not be allowed to operate until the suspension is lifted.
- Revocation. This is the most serious sanction and happens in cases where there is a chronic or serious failure to follow licensing requirements.
What Standards Does the State of Minnesota Expect Child Care Providers to Uphold?
Minnesota has a wide range of requirements that childcare providers are expected to follow. While there are differences between the requirements for Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Programs, they are extensive in both cases and are designed with the welfare and safety of the children who are being cared for in mind. Some of the more significant requirements for both types of licensed child care facilities are listed below; if you have questions about these or any of the many other standards that Minnesota expects licensed child care facilities to meet, contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team for help.
- Background Checks. The DHS calls these “Background Studies” and requires them for anyone who is employed by or who volunteers at a Child Care Center and, for Family Child Care Programs, for all individuals living in the home aged 13 or older. Background Studies include a fingerprint check. Until the DHS confirms that the Background Study for a particular individual is accepted, that person is not allowed to have direct contact with any of the children under your care. Background Studies expire and must be resubmitted every five years.
- Drug and Alcohol Policy. The facility must have a policy in place that prohibits employees or caregivers from working while under the influence of any drug, chemical, or substance, such as alcohol, that could impair their ability to care for children while they are working at the facility.
- Safe Sleeping Requirements. Childcare facilities are required to follow sleeping protocols for young children designed to minimize the chance of harm due to suffocation or SIDS. Any deviation from the prescribed sleep position must be directed by the child's physician in writing. Cribs must be inspected regularly.
- Staff Training. Childcare staff must meet certain standards for initial training and for continuing training thereafter. The standards vary between Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Programs, but the requirements in both cases are extensive. Training covers topics such as child development and learning, reducing the risk of SIDS, child passenger restraint requirements, pediatric first aid, supervising children for safety, and emergency preparedness, among other topics.
- Record Keeping. A wide range of records must be maintained by both Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Programs. These include records of the children in the facility's care (including immunization), what the facility policies are with respect to its hours and days of operation, and the basics of how it will care for the children placed in its care, among other records.
- Other Standards. Care facilities must meet specific requirements for water, food, and nutrition; sanitation and health; the physical environment in which the children will be cared for; the activities and equipment appropriate for the children; and other standards.
Grounds for Child Care Provider Discipline in Minnesota
Any violation of the statutes and rules governing childcare facilities in Minnesota can be grounds for discipline. As noted above, more minor violations may result in a Fix-It Ticket or a Corrections Order. But in more serious cases, where the DHS or county inspector finds that the health and safety of the children in your care are threatened by a violation, you could receive a Conditional License action or, worse, a Temporary Immediate Suspension that would leave you immediately unable to operate your child care facility.
In any case where your child care license is threatened, whether temporarily or permanently, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you understand the violations and develop and implement a strategy for correcting them and, just as important, making sure they don't happen again. And where appropriate, we can help you appeal the more serious forms of childcare provider discipline as provided for by Minnesota law.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in Minnesota
One very natural reaction to learning that a licensing sanction has been issued against you may be to reach out to the inspector to try to “explain what's going on” in the hopes of getting the sanction lifted. Unfortunately, that approach is unlikely to work. The sanctions process exists mainly to ensure that children in childcare centers in Minnesota are properly cared for. There is a process that the state follows when a sanction is issued to make sure that the problem identified in the sanction is corrected before the sanction will be lifted. Speaking with the inspector or another official about the problem is not likely to change that.
What can help is to work with an experienced professional license defense attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team. We can help you focus on fixing any problems identified during an inspection, communicating with the DHS or county to clarify any questions about the sanction and how it should be resolved and, where appropriate, appeal the sanction.
The Process for Disciplining Child Care Violations in Minnesota
Generally, the child care violation process begins with an inspection, either by the DHS (for Child Care Centers) or the county (for Family Child Care Programs). The inspection may be prompted by a complaint filed by a parent, a report made by a former caregiver, or it may be a regular inspection. If the inspector identifies violations that are so serious that they can't be quickly remedied in response to a Fix-It Ticket or a Correction Order, you will receive a notice that a more serious sanction is being applied.
In that case, you can generally expect the following to take place:
- Notice. The notice will identify the “conditions that constitute a violation of the law or rule” and the “specific law or rule violated.” If a time period applies for you to correct the deficiencies, the notice will tell you how long you have to correct each violation included in the notice. For a Conditional License, the notice will also tell you how long the Conditional License period is, what the terms are to correct the deficiencies, and why you've been issued the Conditional License. You'll receive the notice by certified mail, or it may be served on you personally. You have the right to ask the DHS to reconsider the Conditional License but must follow specific procedures if you wish to do so and must request reconsideration within 10 days of receiving the notice.
- Reconsideration Request (for Conditional Licenses). In the case of a Conditional License sanction, you have the right to ask the DHS to reconsider it. You have to make your request to the Commissioner of the DHS by certified mail or by serving it on the Commissioner's office personally within 10 days of when you receive the Conditional License order. Your request should include “written argument or evidence in support of the request for reconsideration” if you want the request to be effective. If you serve your reconsideration request within the 10-day time period, the Conditional License will not become effective until the Commissioner makes a decision on your reconsideration request.
- Contested Case Hearing Request (for Conditional Licenses with fines). In a situation where the Conditional License has been issued together with a fine, you have a right to request a contested case hearing that will consider both sanctions. You must ask for the hearing within 10 days of receiving the notice of the Conditional License.
- Contested Case Hearing Request (for Suspension, Revocation, or Fine). If you've been served with a Suspension, a Revocation, or a notice of Fine, you have the right to ask for a contested hearing, which acts as an appeal of the sanctions. You have ten days after receiving notice of the sanction to serve your contested case hearing request on the Commissioner of the DHS. While the contested case process is ongoing, you will be allowed to continue to operate your childcare facility until the DHS Commissioner rules on the contested case, issuing a “final order on the suspension or revocation.” Similarly, your time to pay any fines will be suspended during the contested case proceedings.
- Prehearing Conference. An administrative law judge will be assigned to your contested case. The judge is required to conduct the hearing within 90 days of when you requested it; this period may be extended by an additional 90 days under certain circumstances. At an early point in the process, there is likely to be a preliminary conference designed to “simplify the issues to be determined at the hearing” and to discuss other types of “housekeeping” issues to help move the hearing process along more efficiently. These typically cover topics such as scheduling, likely witnesses, possible opportunities to settle the matter, issues with possible evidence, and other matters related to the hearing.
- Settlement Discussions. Either you or the DHS can initiate settlement discussions designed to come to an agreement without a hearing. If you agree to settle the matter, your contested case will be withdrawn.
- Hearing. If the case doesn't settle, the administrative law judge will conduct the hearing, and in most cases, it will operate much as you might expect – each side will have a chance to present their evidence and witnesses, and the other side will have a chance to object to the evidence and to cross-examine the witnesses. After the close of the hearing, the judge will issue a ruling, typically in the form of findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations on the issues covered by the hearing.
- Reconsideration of Contested Case. If the administrative law judge rules against you, you may have the opportunity to request reconsideration of the contested case. Whether and to what extent a reconsideration request might be effective depends on the issues covered by the contested case and the facts of your particular situation. An experienced attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you evaluate your chances of an effective rehearing in a case where the contested case ruling is not in your favor.
- Special Procedures for Temporary Immediate Suspensions. If you've received a Temporary Immediate Suspension Notice, you have the right to an expedited contested hearing; however, unlike with other sanctions, you won't be allowed to operate your facility until the hearing is resolved, and then only if it's resolved in your favor.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the State of Minnesota in Connection With Your Child Care Facility?
Where your facility is subject to a final suspension or revocation order, you will not be allowed to care for children in your facility until the suspension is lifted or until the revocation order is reversed. During any contested case period, you'll still be able to operate your facility, except in the case of a Temporary Immediate Suspension.
Depending on the type of sanction, you may be required to fix any deficiencies in your facility or your care practices before you will be allowed to reopen. It's important in these cases to have a complete understanding of what deficiencies have been identified by the DHS or county inspector, when you need to have them corrected, what you must do to correct them, and how to notify the DHS that you've done so. Working with one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you make sure you've addressed all outstanding issues, that you've put in place effective procedures to help prevent them from happening again, and that the DHS knows that you're now in compliance.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
You know first-hand how important it is to the families that you serve that you operate a licensed childcare facility in Minnesota. Whether it's in the busy metro area surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul, or in cities such as Rochester, Duluth, or St. Cloud, or in smaller municipalities such as International Falls, Brainerd, or Hibbing, the availability of quality child care is vital to the day-to-day lives of thousands of families all over Minnesota. When your ability to provide care is threatened by a DHS or county inspection, you need to make sure that your rights are protected, even as you also need to make sure that any actual issues are addressed.
This is where the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help. Our experienced attorneys understand the child care licensing laws and rules in Minnesota and can help you every step of the way, from Fix-It Tickets that don't quite make sense, to license revocations or Temporary Immediate Suspensions that can leave your facility dead in the water. We will work with you to make sure you address any legitimate concerns that DHS has with your childcare facility, and we will be your representative with the DHS when there are questions, problems, and potential ways to resolve matters.
If you've learned that your child care facility license is in jeopardy, call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to set up a consultation. We know this is important to you and to the families whose children you care for, and we are here to listen and to help!