Childcare providers in Vermont are an essential part of our community and economy. Millions of people couldn't work or go to school without reliable childcare, bringing our modern society to a screeching halt. The community also places great trust in preschool teachers and daycare providers. Whether you live in Burlington, Stowe, or somewhere in between, your community relies on you to care for their children. However, because children are vulnerable, childcare is also highly regulated by the state to ensure the safety and well-being of our children. To become a childcare provider, you must navigate the licensing process, ensure qualified staff, and comply with state regulations.
But if you're facing an investigation from the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) for complaints about your childcare program or suspected abuse and neglect, you need to act quickly. The investigation process will begin immediately, and an adverse finding can affect your reputation, business, and ability to work in your profession. You need the experienced Professional License Defense Team from the Lento Law Firm to guide you through the investigation and disciplinary process and protect your rights and license every step of the way. Call 888.535.3686 or contact us online to schedule your consultation as soon as possible.
Licensing for Childcare Facilities in Vermont
In Vermont, childcare licensing falls under the state's Department for Children and Families and the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Child Care Services Division. Any childcare program in a private home or a nonresidential setting must be licensed for full or part-time care. This includes early childhood education programs such as:
- Childcare centers,
- Nursery schools,
- Church-affiliated programs, and
- Before and after school programs.
Some types of childcare programs may be registered rather than licensed in Vermont, including family childcare homes with six or fewer full-time and four or fewer part-time children.
Some forms of childcare don't require licensing or registration in Vermont. These include:
- Family home care provided in a child's home by a relative,
- Childcare providers caring for only one or two families,
- Camps and recreational programs for school-age kids,
- Single-skill activities and programs like sports, arts, and music, and
- Programs in operation for no more than ten consecutive weeks throughout the year for school-age kids.
However, non-licensed or registered childcare programs may still be required to conform to other local regulations, including safety, fire, and health codes.
Childcare regulations in Vermont fall into three categories:
- Family Childcare Homes: Homes with a maximum of ten children in their care during the school year and 12 during summer vacation.
- Center-based Childcare and Preschool Programs: Facilities that provide childcare outside a home-based program for fewer than. 24 hours a day.
- Afterschool Childcare Programs: Programs that provide before, after, and school vacation care for school-age children.
For licensing in Vermont, you'll need to provide:
- Business entity licensing information,
- IRS W-9 Form,
- An application,
- Background check application,
- Required documentation, including detailed information about insurance, tax standing, child support obligations, zoning, fire prevention, indoor and outdoor space, staff qualifications, water system, HVAC system, lead, emergency procedures, and policies and procedures for staff and parents.
Requirements for Childcare Workers in Vermont
Childcare workers must also meet minimum requirements in Vermont based on their titles and level of responsibility.
- Center-based Programs
- Program Director: The program director must be at least 21, a qualified teacher associate, and have additional qualifications in early childhood and afterschool programs, staff supervision, program management, administration, and human resources management.
- Teacher: A teacher must be at least 20 and hold a bachelor's degree with a concentration in education, an early childhood education certificate, a current Vermont teaching license, and 12 months of experience working with children.
- Teacher Associate: A teaching associate must be 20 and be a high school graduate or have a GED, and hold an early childhood education certificate, an associate degree with a concentration in education, a certificate from a community college, and 12 months of experience working with children.
- Teacher Assistant: A teaching assistant must be at least 18, hold an early childhood certificate, a Child Development Associate credential, 12 months of experience working with children, an early childhood professionals' course, and a three-credit college course in child development.
- Family Childcare Homes
- Home Provider: A home provider must be 18, a high school graduate or have a GED, have successfully completed an early childhood professionals' course, hold a Child Development Associate credential or a childcare certificate, and have 12 completed college credits in core education areas.
- Home Assistant: A childcare home assistant must be 18, have completed a GED or high school, complete at least three college credits in core education areas, or be enrolled in or a graduate of an approved Human Services Certificate program specializing in childhood development or early education.
There are additional requirements for teacher aids, trainees, and substitutes in both center-based and family childcare home programs. After working hard to complete the necessary educational and training requirements to be a childcare provider, you don't want to lose your license over a mistake. That's why you need the skilled Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm if you're facing an investigation.
Childcare License Investigations in Vermont
Complaints about childcare providers typically go through the Vermont DCF Childcare Consumer Line. People may file complaints based on the following:
- A lack of supervision,
- Unsafe environment for children,
- Inappropriate discipline,
- Too many kids in a facility,
- Unqualified staff,
- Not enough staff for the number of children and
- Licensing issues.
After filing a formal complaint, DCF investigators will become involved. The investigation will involve:
- Field Investigation: A licensed field investigator from DCF will investigate and may contact the complaint reporter, make an unannounced visit, and interview teachers, staff, parents, and community agencies.
- Determination: After the investigation, DCF will decide whether the provider violated Vermont childcare regulations.
- Consequences: If DCF finds a violation occurred, they may enact a corrective action or improvement plan or take other action like suspending or revoking a license.
- Appeal: A childcare provider has the right to appeal an adverse decision by DCF.
Vermont childcare providers could face suspension or revocation of a license for:
- Failure to comply with Vermont law and childcare regulations,
- Violating the terms of a license,
- Fraud or misrepresentation in obtaining a license,
- Refusing to allow a representative of DCF to the program during operating hours,
- Putting the health, safety, or well-being of children in serious or imminent danger,
- Any activity, policy, practice, or staff conduct that is “detrimental to the education, health, safety, or well-being of children,”
- Conduct demonstrating a “pattern of unwillingness or inability to consistently comply with regulations.”
Many felony or misdemeanor convictions in Vermont can also result in denying a license or losing an existing childcare license. Under Vermont law, certain people can't be employed by or operate a licensed childcare program, including:
” Persons convicted of fraud, a felony, or an offense involving violence, or unlawful sexual activity or other bodily injury to another person including, but not limited to abuse, neglect or sexual activity with a child; or
a person found by a court to have abused, neglected, or mistreated a child, elderly or disabled person, or animal; or
adults or children who have had a report of abuse or neglect substantiated against them under [Vermont law].”
Child Protective Service Investigations in Vermont
The state may also receive complaints about you, your staff, and the childcare facility through the DCF's Child Protection Line. The Child Protection Line handles allegations of abuse or neglect from mandatory reporters and the general public. After receiving a complaint, a DCF investigation will involve four steps. They will:
- Review the report. First, a supervisor will review any report to see if the agency should accept it for intervention. If not, a second supervisor will review it and may accept it. If the agency still doesn't accept the report, they may refer a family or other subject of an investigation to services in the community.
- Determine whether intervention is needed. A supervisor will decide whether the appropriate intervention is to assess or investigate. Then, the agency will assign a social worker to the case who will begin the intervention within 72 hours. Intervention may happen earlier if DCF believes a child is in imminent danger.
- Conduct an investigation. The agency's investigation will assess whether children are safe, the risk of future harm, and the intervention outcome. The agency will also open a case for ongoing community or social services if needed.
- Make a determination. For assessments and investigations, DCF may open a case for ongoing services if the agency believes the risk to children is high. When this happens, the agency helps develop a safety plan for the subject of an investigation. In formal determinations and investigations, the agency will determine whether abuse or neglect happened. If a report is substantiated, the agency will add you or the childcare provider involved to the Child Protection Registry.
Under Vermont law, abuse and neglect are expressly defined. An “abused or neglected child” is:
“A child whose physical health, psychological growth and development, or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent or other person responsible for the child's welfare. An “abused or neglected child” also means a child who is sexually abused or at substantial risk of sexual abuse by any person and a child who has died as a result of abuse or neglect.”
Certain serious allegations will also involve a criminal investigation from law enforcement, including:
- Child sexual abuse by anyone ten or older,
- Serious physical abuse or neglect that involved emergency medical care resulted in death or was likely to result in criminal charges,
- Potentially dangerous situations for a child or the social worker,
- Any incident where a child suffers serious bodily injury, and
- Potential violations involving “lewd or lascivious conduct” with a child, human trafficking, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation of children.
Licensed Teachers in Vermont Childcare Facilities
Licensed childcare workers in Vermont must meet the minimum requirements we discussed above, with the standards varying depending on the type of facility and the number and age of the children. However, many workers in daycares and other childcare facilities are licensed teachers or early childhood educators. The state of Vermont separately licenses these professionals and can also face licensing investigations after an allegation of abuse, neglect, or misconduct in a childcare facility.
All licensed preschool or early education teachers in Vermont must have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or development or a closely related field and at least one year of preschool teaching experience. To earn a Department of Education teaching license in early childhood education, you'll also need to complete a Vermont-approved teacher prep program in early childhood education.
Vermont also licenses preschool teaching assistants, associates, and master preschool teachers. In addition to licensed preschool teachers, all these positions require a great deal of education, training, and hands-on practical preparation. However, an allegation of abuse, neglect, or misconduct as a preschool teacher can place your career and reputation in serious jeopardy. Investigations of childcare facilities by DCF can often occur in conjunction or parallel with teacher license investigations conducted by the Vermont Agency of Education (VAE).
Professional Standards for Licensed Teachers in Vermont
In Vermont, the Agency of Education holds all teachers to a code of professional responsibility based on the Model Code of Ethics for Educators. The VAE can revoke or suspend your license based on the following:
- Breaking state, federal, or local laws,
- Child abuse, sexual abuse, and improper or offensive behavior with children,
- Misusing drugs or alcohol,
- Dishonesty, fraud, or falsifying information in the educational profession,
- Misusing public funds or property,
- Soliciting or accepting gifts with an apparent or actual conflict of interest,
- Failing to maintain student confidentiality, and
- Failing to use equitable and just treatment in the profession.
If you're facing allegations of misconduct as a preschool teacher or early childhood educator in Vermont, it will involve an investigation with an investigator appointed by a hearing panel administrative officer and a prosecuting attorney assigned by the Secretary of Education. The hearing panel will then make recommendations to the Secretary. This may be followed by a formal investigation, an investigatory committee, and a recommendation to the Secretary for disciplinary action.
If you wish to appeal the final decision of a hearing panel, you'll have 30 days after the decision. You'll file your appeal with the administrative office of the hearing panel, which sends the appeal to the Director of the Office of Professional Regulation. The Director assigns an appellate officer who reviews the record from the original hearing panel. You won't be able to retry the case. However, you can point out problems with the hearing process that aren't shown on the official record or mistakes of law. The appellate officer can reverse and remand the case if they believe your rights were prejudiced:
- in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
- in excess of the statutory authority of the hearing panel;
- made upon unlawful procedure;
- affected by other errors of law;
- clearly erroneous in view of the evidence on the record as a whole;
- arbitrary or capricious; or
- characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.
After the appellate officer's decision, either party can appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, which will use the record created before the hearing panel and the appellate officer. If you're facing a potential investigation, you need the Professional License Defense Team from the Lento Law Firm involved as soon as possible.
Appealing a DCF Decision in Vermont
In Vermont, you can appeal any agency order or final licensing decision with the Vermont Administrative Procedure Act once you've exhausted all your agency appeals. You can appeal a DCF final decision to revoke or suspend your childcare license in a contested case. You will be scheduled for a hearing and allowed to “respond and present evidence and argument on all issues involved.” The record in the case will include:
- all pleadings, motions, intermediate rulings;
- all evidence received or considered;
- a statement of matters officially noticed;
- questions and offers of proof, objections, and rulings thereon;
- proposed findings and exceptions; and
- any decision, opinion, or report.
The board can issue subpoenas to compel testimony and order discovery. The final decision will be in writing and stated on the record, including findings of fact and conclusions of law.
The Vermont APA provides special protections for revoking or suspending a license, declaring that no action on a license is lawful unless:
“Prior to the institution of agency proceedings, the agency gave notice by mail to the licensee of facts or conduct which warrant the intended action, and the licensee was given an opportunity to show compliance with all lawful requirements for the retention of the license. If the agency finds that public health, safety, or welfare imperatively requires emergency action, and incorporates a finding to that effect in its order, summary suspension of a license may be ordered pending proceedings for revocation or other action. These proceedings shall be promptly instituted and determined.”
While you will have an opportunity to respond to the revocation of your license, it's important to act quickly and ensure you comply with all of the appellate board's requirements.
Appealing an Adverse Licensing Decision in Vermont
If DCF revokes your license after a contested hearing under the Vermont APA, and you have exhausted all your administrative remedies, you can appeal the decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. However, you can appeal an intermediate decision if waiting to appeal to the Supreme Court wouldn't be an adequate remedy. When filing an intermediate appeal, you can also request a stay of agency action. Filing the appeal doesn't stay the action, but the court may issue a stay under specific terms after reviewing your request, or the agency may grant a stay.
The court will review the appeal based on the record created in the agency and the appellate board below. However, you and your attorney can point out mistakes of law or fact in the proceedings below. The court may also order additional evidence “be taken before the agency upon conditions determined by the Court” if the additional evidence is material to the decision and there were good reasons you failed to present it below.
It's important to note that, even if you win in an APA hearing, DCF can still appeal the decision to the court. You need experienced representation before the Vermont Supreme Court. That's why it's essential to have the skilled Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm involved in the process as soon as possible.
How the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you're a childcare provider, daycare facility owner, or licensed early educator in Vermont, an allegation of misconduct, neglect, or abuse can destroy your business, professional reputation, and career. An investigation from either theVermont Department for Children and Families or the Agency of Education can result in suspension or revocation of your license, ending your career as an early childhood educator. For serious allegations, you could even face potential jail time.
However, you don't have to go through the investigation and disciplinary process alone. With the Lento Law Firm's experienced Professional License Defense Team by your side, you can present your best possible defense. They've been helping business owners and licensed professionals like you across the nation for years. The Team can analyze your case, explain your options, help develop your defense, and negotiate with agency officials for a quick resolution. Find out how they can help you, too. Call 888.535.3686 today or contact us online to schedule your consultation.