Regulatory standards for child care facilities and providers ensure the health and safety of children, mandating the best quality of attention and instruction that can be provided to meet consumer demands. A program must meet requirements managed by the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE), whether it's a smaller residential setting or located in a commercial building. Licensees of all classifications must comply with a stringent set of rules governing education criteria, nutrition standards, safety protocols, and staff qualifications, among others. If allegations of non-compliance arise, DCDEE has the authority to investigate and enforce immediate action following substantiated violations, which can include revoking credentials.
Although child care professionals may believe they can represent themselves independently in front of state disciplinary authorities, the administrative proceedings employed differ from those commonly seen in civil matters or those used in a courtroom. For example, DCDEE and state adjudicatory bodies have distinctive evidentiary standards, timelines for various processes, and fewer means of redress for licensees following sanctions. Furthermore, once a license or certification is revoked, reapplying can take years and may even be banned altogether.
One of the most essential facets of operating a North Carolina child care facility is knowing where to turn when allegations of non-compliance or complaints arise for the help needed in building a solid defense. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team works hard to defend child care licensees against harsh disciplinary measures from state governing bodies. The team understands the difficulties that become apparent during DCDEE complaint investigations, gathering evidence for appeals, testifying in hearings, and how sanctions can disrupt the care they provide for children. For professional guidance on how to navigate disciplinary action, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today or go online immediately for help.
North Carolina Child Care Licensing Standards
In North Carolina, a child care program is required to be licensed if it serves three or more unrelated children under the age of 13 at least one day per week or operates at least four days per week. DCDEE recognizes multiple types of child care facilities and provider settings across North Carolina, like part-day preschools, before-school and after-school care, drop-in child care, and recreational programs, but they are not required to be licensed as they fall within the realm of temporary or seasonal care.
For full-time child care, DCDEE grants programs one of the following two license types:
- Family Child Care Home (FCCH): a child care setting located in a residence where, at any one time, more than two children, but less than nine children, receive child care.
- Child Care Center (CCC): a setting where, at any one time, there are three or more preschool-age children or nine or more school-age children receiving child care.
DCDEE tasks child care consultants to ensure child care regulations are being met with all licensees. This includes employee background checks, safety inspections, compliance with local planning and zoning laws, sufficient facilities for staff-to-child ratios, and more. Consultants will conduct visits for pre-licensing checks, but also at least once per year unannounced while a center is licensed.
Licensed programs must maintain a compliance history of at least 75 percent over the previous 18 months, or the length of time the facility has operated if shorter. Some of the child care licensing requirements that are checked in a program's compliance history are:
- Condition of facilities and equipment
- Disciplinary practices
- Emergency protocols
- Staff-to-child ratios
- Staff education and professional development
- Supervision of children
North Carolina Child Care License Complaint Procedure
Other than annual visits from licensing specialists and other relevant authorities, facilities, and providers are kept accountable by parents, staff, and other members of the public they engage with. Therefore, complaints or allegations of licensing violations may originate from multiple sources.
Once DCDEE has information regarding a complaint or an issue of non-compliance, a consultant will make an unannounced visit to discuss the complaint with the provider. A consultant may interview the child care facility administrator or main provider, caregivers, teachers, parents, children, and any other individuals who may have information about the allegations. The investigation will also depend on the nature of the initial complaint. For instance, if DCDEE received a complaint about the nutritional content or the preparation of meals, the consultant would center their visit and time around when meals are served at the center and review food storage, kitchen equipment, and dining facilities primarily, but also previous meal plans and distributor agreements.
If an allegation of child maltreatment is received, the process is handled slightly differently. The investigation could include multiple visits by the consultant, including from additional authorities like local law enforcement, medical professionals, and other state agencies.
At the conclusion of any visit addressing a complaint, the consultant will review their summary with the licensee. They will then be asked to sign a visit summary and will be given a copy for their records. Consultants will render one of two decisions regarding the complaint or allegation of non-compliance:
- Substantiated: There is evidence a violation occurred.
- Unsubstantiated: There is evidence that a violation did not occur.
DCDEE may also consider other factors prior to moving forward with administrative action or what type is to be employed as discipline, including the following:
- The severity of the complaint or violation.
- The probability of recurrence of the violation or incident.
- All prior administrative actions issued to the facility or license holder.
- The licensee's response to the complaint or violation, including actions taken to prevent recurrence, such as revision to facility or staff policies and procedures.
- Self-reporting a violation to the DCDEE.
If the violation was of general child care rules, the incident will be posted on DCDEE's website. Depending on the severity of the infraction, DCDEE could take the following disciplinary action:
- Issue a written reprimand.
- Mandate a corrective plan.
- Move to revoke a child care license.
If child maltreatment is substantiated, DCDEE may place the licensee on the state's Child Maltreatment Registry. The registry is a list of providers who have committed in a child care setting. Any licensee placed on the list is disqualified from ever working in the child care industry in North Carolina. Before being placed on the registry, the licensee will be allowed to appeal the decision but must cease working in child care until a decision is rendered.
Child Care License Appeals and Contested Case Hearings
With appeals of child maltreatment, license holders must petition the county's superior court in which the license is valid within 30 days of receiving the DCDEE's decision. Yet, all license holders may challenge decisions through a contested case hearing through the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
Proceedings are overseen by an administrative law judge (ALJ), and facilities and providers may present evidence and arguments regarding all issues of a complaint, non-compliance, and license suspension or revocation before the ALJ. Before the hearing, both parties will engage in a pre-hearing conference to discuss potential stipulations of the hearing and work out any settlement possibilities. Each side will then exchange relevant information, documents, and evidence through the discovery process. This allows each party to understand the other's case and to prepare their arguments.
During the contested case hearing, licensees and representatives from DCDEE will present their arguments, witnesses, and evidence. The ALJ ensures a fair and orderly process and may question witnesses and review evidence. But parties will also be given the chance for cross-examination. After the hearing, parties may have the opportunity to submit post-hearing briefs or additional documents summarizing their arguments or responding to issues raised during the hearing before the ALJ makes a final decision.
The ALJ's decision will be based on the evidence presented and will include one of the following determinations:
- Affirming the original decision from the DCDEE.
- Modifying the DCDEE's punitive measures.
- Reversing the agency's punishment.
Licensees dissatisfied with the ALJ's decision may appeal further to the North Carolina court system or the state court of appeals.
License Revocation Initial Affects
Once a final decision is made and license revocation remains a punishment for substantiated violations or complaints, child care licensees must immediately notify all parents, as well as post a notice of closure that the public can view for at least three months. If a corrective action plan is reached instead of revocation, there will only be a short time to complete the necessary corrections to gain compliance. Unfortunately, DCDEE's authority can leave facilities and providers with complex obstacles to navigate to regain compliance with agency rules and ALJ decisions.
Any complaint against a facility or provider or an allegation of non-compliance is a threat to a North Carolina child care license. Agency authorities will begin investigations into complaints and non-compliance immediately, and situations can quickly become intimidating when the future of one's ability to provide child care hangs in the balance. Yet, even unproven claims can seriously harm any licensee holder. Therefore, it's essential that you know where to turn for advocacy and defense before trouble arises.
Why You Need the Lento Law Firm to Help Protect Your North Carolina Child Care License
As a professional child care licensee or certificate holder, you understand the regulations managing your business, safety protocols, staff management, child first aid, and facility maintenance. However, navigating complaint procedures and OAH hearings and appeals requires a distinct set of skills.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team knows what kind of strain investigations and sanctions can place on licensees, their staff, and the children they care for. You've worked diligently to obtain the credentials necessary to care for children and remain in compliance with agency regulations, so let the Lento Law Firm provide the defense you need to continue providing valuable child care.
Our team of attorneys will ensure you are represented in OAH hearings and appeals in front of the ALJ and properly defended against agency authorities. However, the Lento Law Firm can also be a resource with many other facets of licensing compliance and pre-disciplinary processes to support retaining your license, like the following:
- Help inform facility child care staff members and volunteers about their rights when complaints or non-compliance allegations arise or when the center is under investigation by consultants or other authorities.
- Review the complaint and other relevant information to explain the situation to the license and begin to craft a defense.
- Gather evidence and witness testimony and conduct a detailed analysis of compliance measures with various agency regulations.
- Assist in corresponding with the DCDEE or other authorities involved in the investigation or hearing processes.
- Pursue further defense measures with local courts or the North Carolina Court of Appeals if needed.
Working to find representation when allegations arise can lead to you not getting the resources you need to defend yourself against licensing agencies. And without knowledgeable representation, licensees are left vulnerable to disciplinary measures. Therefore, teaming with a Lento Law Firm attorney who understands how licensing boards manage discipline is a valuable career investment in your child care facility and career.
Areas the Lento Law Firm Serves in North Carolina
North Carolina is home to numerous child care facilities and providers covering an array of urban, suburban, and rural settings. They offer a range of programs, from infant care to preschool education, and often focus on activities that support social, emotional, and cognitive growth. Parents in North Carolina can find child care facilities that suit their specific needs, whether it's full-time care, part-time care, or early education.
In tandem with the North Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Council (CCR&R), DCDEE maintains 14 regions of management. Below is a general overview:
Region 1: Comprised of Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare Gates, Hertford, Northampton, Pasquotank, and Perquimans counties. Region 1 is managed through the Albemarle Alliance for Children and Families or the Children and Youth Partnership for Dare County.
Region 2: Comprised of Beaufort, Craven, Hyde, Pamlico, Tyrrell, and Washington counties. Region 2 is managed through the Craven Smart Start, Inc. CCR&R.
Region 3: Comprised of Carteret, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Onslow, and Pitt counties. Region 3 is managed through ChildLinks and the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children, but those in Onslow County are overseen by the Onslow County Partnership for Children.
Region 4: Comprised of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, New Hanover, Pender, and Sampson counties. Region 4 is managed through Puzzles and the Southeastern CCR&R.
Region 5: Comprised of Anson, Cumberland, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland counties. Region 5 is managed through the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County.
Region 6: Comprised of Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, and Union counties. Region 6 is managed through Child Care Resources, Inc.
Region 7: Comprised of Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, and Lincoln counties. Region 7 is managed through Child Care Connections of Cleveland County or the Children's Resource Center of Catawba County.
Region 8: Comprised of Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, and Transylvania counties. Region 8 is managed through the Southwestern Child Development Commission.
Region 9: Comprised of Alexander, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Iredell, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey counties. Region 9 is managed through Child Car Solutions or the Iredell County Partnership for Young Children.
Region 10: Comprised of Alleghany, Ashe, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin counties. Region 10 is managed through the Child Care Resource Center.
Region 11: Comprised of Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham counties. Region 11 is managed through the Regional CCR&R of Guilford Child Development.
Region 12: Comprised of Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance, and Wake counties. Region 12 is managed through the Child Care Services Association.
Region 13: Comprised of Chatham, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, and Wayne counties. Region 13 is managed through the Chatham County Partnership for Children.
Region 14: Comprised of Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash, Warren, and Wilson counties. Region 14 is managed through the Down East Partnership for Children.
Attorneys from the Lento Law Firm serve each and every one of these areas. No matter where your facility or in-home setting is located, we can help you.
Consequences of Losing a North Carolina Child Care License
Having a child care license revoked is a monumental event in a provider's career. Since child care licensees must provide vital information to the state, all sanctions, including investigations, can be found online in many circumstances. Even when corrective action plans are issued, providers must post a short synopsis of the action taken by the agency for the public to see.
Nevertheless, once a license is suspended or revoked, the following consequences may affect your facility or provider center:
- Immediate termination of child care services
- Negative financial impacts on the center and employees
- Public and industry reputation harm
- Client retention issues
- Obstacles to re-licensing
- Potential legal issues
Whenever a final order is reached following OAH proceedings, the orders and sanctions take place immediately. If the ALJ affirms a license revocation from DCDEE, child care facilities must close down operations and inform parents at once. Closure will disrupt the care arrangements for families who rely on these services as they will have short notice to vacate the center, also disturbing the routine and stability of children who were attending the facility.
Both FCCH and CCC license holders rely on dedicated staff members to administer instruction and promote the well-being of children. License suspension and revocation also mean the end of their employment. If their source of income is halted, it can quickly lead to financial difficulties, especially if it's their primary livelihood. Depending on the reasons for the loss of the license, providers may face legal consequences, including fines or legal action.
Aside from the immediate impacts, license revocation means child care facilities and providers must undergo a waiting period before applying for a new license. For former license holders, two years must pass before reapplying, and that licensee holder may not be hired by another licensed child care provider during the two periods following revocation. Moreover, previous disciplinary action is often used to deny reapplication or applications in other states. Even when a child care license is regained, the news of former disciplinary action may negatively impact community standing and make it challenging to reenter the field due to a likely downfall in public reputation.
With these considerable consequences, any North Carolina child care licensee should consult with the Lento Law Firm. It's essential to understand your obligations and possible strategies for defense before allegations are levied and how to remain compliant with agency regulations.
Professional Child Care License Defense for North Carolina Facilities and Providers
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is dedicated to helping North Carolina child care license holders navigate complaints, allegations of non-compliance, and any disciplinary actions levied against them. After working hard to push through licensure requirements and maintain state agency guidelines, you need a team that can represent you effectively, understand how the state manages child care license regulations, and broker a resolution with the DCDEE or other governing bodies.
Local lawyers commonly found in every town in and outside North Carolina may try to sell potential clients on their courtroom experience as the best strategy to defend the status of a child care license. They may even claim that their aggressive mentality in front of county prosecutors is what a licensee needs to retain their credentials. However, the administrative hearings used to manage licensing disputes and the complaint processes have different standards, including that of evidence and various timetables. When license holders engage in this type of adjudication, professional license defense is what they need.
To gain stress-free assistance and keep your child care credentials intact, contact Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team. Call us at 888-535-3686 today for help, or schedule a consultation online.