Being a childcare provider can be both an incredibly rewarding and thankless job. You and your staff play a crucial role in the lives of all the children you care for. Many days, the children in your care will spend more time with you than anyone else. Treating each child like they are your own, protecting them, and offering a constant support system is hard work. When you have dedicated your life and career to providing the best possible care for the children in your Mississippi community, it is probably shocking to hear that disciplinary action has been brought against you and your childcare facility license.
The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team understands all the time, money, and effort you have put into building your childcare facility community. From all the health, fire, and safety certificates to staff training and licensure requirements, you have come too far to lose it all because of a disciplinary action against you. Our team appreciates everything you do for the children and the families you serve; let us help you get through the disciplinary process against you as unscathed as possible. We will help you navigate the disciplinary process and provide effective and strong defenses every step of the way. To begin getting Lento Law Firm assistance, call 888.535.3686 or contact us online.
Mississippi State Department of Health Licensure
The Mississippi State Department of Health Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch handles all licensing, inspecting, and monitoring of daycare facilities and youth camps throughout the state. This office works to set standards for the safe operation of these facilities and ensures a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in these facilities' care.
Mississippi law defines a child care facility as "a place which provides shelter and personal care for six or more children who are not related within the third degree computed according to the civil law to the operator and who are under 13 years of age, for any part of the twenty-four-hour day, whether such place be organized or operated for profit or not." Childcare facilities include nurseries, daycare centers, childcare centers, preschool programs, and any other facilities that meet the above definition.
The law refers to licensees as operators. The law details who is considered to be an operator, stating that an operator is “any person, acting individually or jointly with another person or persons, who shall establish, operate, conduct, or maintain a child care facility.” The child care facility license is issued only to the named operator; if the facility has more than one operator, the license will be issued in the name of only one of the operators. While the license can only be issued to one operator, all operators are bound by the regulatory and statutory provisions concerning operators (such as background checks).
The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch inspects each childcare facility at least twice a year to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. The agency maintains an online database where the public can view inspection reports and documented violations. The Mississippi State Department of Health also maintains a list of serious accidents, injuries, and deaths in Mississippi childcare facilities.
Types of Child Care Facility Licenses
There are four different types of childcare facility licenses: (1) a temporary license, (2) a regular license, (3) a probational license, and (4) a restricted license. The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can issue a temporary license to allow a childcare facility to operate while its application for a regular license is under agency review. A temporary license will expire six months after the issuance date. The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch will issue a regular license if it determines that all conditions and requirements for licensure have been met. Regular licenses expire annually and must be renewed on that basis. If the license lapses, the Child Care Facilities Branch can require the operator to re-apply for the license.
Probational licenses are issued in response to a disciplinary action. The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can issue a probational license when a violation may endanger the health or safety of the children in the facility's care, but the violations can be corrected within a specific time period. When a probational license is issued, the agency and the licensee will agree upon a written corrective action plan. The corrective action plan will detail how long the facility must complete the corrective action plan; the agency has the discretion to set the time frame for compliance, but it cannot exceed six months.
The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can issue a restricted license if it believes certain restrictions are necessary to protect the health and safety of the children at the facility. One example of a condition or restriction that can be applied is barring certain individuals from the premises. If any restrictions of the license are violated, the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch will immediately issue an emergency suspension of the facility's license. Restrictions can be lifted, and the license can be converted to a regular license if the issue that caused the restriction is no longer a threat to the children. No licenses are considered to be transferrable.
Relevant Laws and Regulations on Child Care Facility Licensing
The Mississippi Child Care Licensing Law is the law that outlines the licensing and operation requirements and disciplinary processes for childcare facilities. The law aims to protect and promote the health and safety of children in Mississippi by assuring childcare facilities meet certain minimum quality and safety standards.
The Disciplinary Action Process
The Mississippi Department of Health oversees the disciplinary action process from start to finish. While the facts of each case may be unique, the process will look almost the same for all cases. Cases will either begin with an external complaint or can begin if the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch suspects or finds a violation during the course of its routine inspections. Following the complaint will be an investigation, a hearing if requested, and a final agency determination, which is eligible for appeal. All these steps are further detailed below.
The Mississippi State Department of Health maintains a childcare facility complaint hotline to accept complaints against facilities. The Department logs each complaint and refers every complaint for further investigation. Complaints can be made a few ways, including by calling the Child Care Facility Complaint Hot Line, mailing the complaint to the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch, emailing the complaints, or completing an online complaint form.
The person filing the complaint is kept confidential and not disclosed to anyone other than the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch. The only way for the identity of the person filing the complaint to be released is by filing a request with the relevant court and having that request granted.
Upon getting a complaint, the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can issue an emergency license suspension. An emergency suspension will be issued if the agency has reasonable cause to believe that the operation of the childcare facility constitutes a substantial hazard to the health or safety of the children being cared for at the facility. An emergency suspension is different from other disciplinary actions because the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can suspend a license without first conducting a hearing. If your license is suspended on an emergency basis, you will be notified in writing immediately and must accordingly stop all operations of your childcare facility. The written notification will include the reason for the emergency suspension and set a hearing within 14 days.
Once a complaint is received, an investigation will begin to determine the credibility of the complaint and to decide if further action is necessary. Investigations often begin with a visit to the child care facility, where the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can inspect the facility and speak with staff. They will also collect any relevant evidence, including videos and photos.
Interviews are also a standard part of an investigation; the Childcare Facilities Licensure Branch staff will interview staff, parents, children (with parental permission granted), and other people with knowledge of the incident or violation that is the subject of the complaint. You may also be asked to provide records during the investigation; these could be any of the records you are legally required to keep on-site, as well as Child Protective Services reports, law enforcement reports, and more.
Before the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch can refuse to renew, suspend, revoke, restrict a license, or impose a monetary penalty, it must send a written notice of the action to the operator of the child care facility. The notice will provide the reasons the agency wants to take the suggested action; it will also notify you, the operator, of your right to a hearing. There are two types of hearings you are entitled to: a district-level hearing and a state-level hearing. District-level hearings are used to contest monetary penalties that have been imposed for any violation of childcare laws and regulations. The state-level hearing allows you to contest the disciplinary actions against your license. It is important to know the difference between these hearings because requesting the wrong type of hearing could negatively impact the outcome of your case.
After you have received notice, you have only ten days to respond in writing requesting a hearing. It is very important that you do not miss this deadline, or you may be forfeiting your right to present your side of the story. It is also at this point that you should be retaining an experienced child care licensing defense attorney. The Lento Law Firm has years of experience guiding clients through disciplinary hearings and disciplinary action processes overall.
Your hearing will be scheduled within 30 days of receiving your hearing request unless you and the agency decide on an alternate date or time period. The hearing will be presided over by a hearing officer appointed by the State Health Officer. The hearing will be formal, and a court reporter will be present to transcribe the full proceeding. You should never attend a hearing on your own. The Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch may be represented by their own counsel during a state-level hearing, and you should similarly have your attorney present.
State-level hearings are conducted according to specific rules and procedures in Mississippi's administrative regulations. Your hearing is the time for you to argue your case for keeping your license. This means presenting evidence and making arguments, but how you present your evidence and arguments must follow these rules; the typical rules of evidence and discovery don't apply in administrative proceedings. These rules and procedures are likely unfamiliar to you, but getting them wrong can cost you your entire case and your license. Your Lento Law Firm attorney knows all the procedures, timelines, and processes detailed in these rules.
At your hearing, your attorney can present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and refute any testimony or evidence presented by the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch. You may also call your own witnesses, permitting you to request the attendance of witnesses with the Hearing Officer a minimum of 10 days before the hearing. Your Lento Law Firm attorney is experienced in this and other administrative procedures and will handle all of this for you.
All hearings follow the same order; first, the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch will present its case; then, you, the operator, may present your case, ideally through your attorney. Following both sides' presentations, both parties will be allowed to offer rebuttal evidence.
For the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch to succeed in its action against you, the Hearing Officer must find that the regulatory violation has been proved by clear and convincing evidence and that the disciplinary action is supported by substantial evidence.
Child Care Licensing Determinations
Within 30 days of your state-level hearing or the time frame set during your hearings, the hearing officer will draft written findings of fact and recommendations for action. These documents will be sent to the Mississippi State Health Officer, who then has 14 days to decide what action, if any, should be taken against you and your license. When the State Health Officer has made their decision, you will be notified in writing of the decisions and any action that is being taken against you.
If you disagree with the State Health Officer's disciplinary action against you, you are legally entitled to an appeal. You must make your appeal within 30 days of receiving notice from the State Health Officer detailing the actions against you, either suspending, restricting, or revoking your license. Your appeal must be filed in the Chancery Court in the county where your childcare facility is located.
On appeal, you, the operator, have the burden of proving that the Mississippi Department of Health's decision against you was not in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. This is a difficult task. If you have not retained an attorney at this point, you must reconsider. Appeals are official court proceedings, and it is never wise to go to court without an attorney on your side.
Many people make the mistake of not retaining counsel as soon as they hear that disciplinary action is being taken against them, which can result in getting an unfavorable agency determination. The Lento Law Firm often gets retained by those just starting the appeal process; if that is your situation, we can help. Your appeal is your last chance to preserve your license, and we will put our all into making the strongest case possible and getting you the best outcome under the circumstances.
Actions That Can Threaten Your License
There are many actions that can cause the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch to revoke or suspend your license. These actions include:
- Fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment of a material fact by the operator in securing the issuance or renewal of a permit.
- Conviction of the operator of any crime that could have a detrimental effect on the children cared for in the childcare facility.
- Any conduct or failure to act that threatened the health or safety of a child.
- Failure to have all criminal records and child abuse central registry checks on file at the facility.
Why You Need a Mississippi Child Care License Defense Attorney
Your childcare facility license is your livelihood, and you cannot afford to lose it. Because the government takes all allegations involving children's safety very seriously, fighting for your license can be an uphill battle. The Mississippi Department of Health has extensive resources that they can use against you in the disciplinary process, but with the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team on your side, you will be prepared for anything they throw your way. Having effective and professional counsel allows you to reduce the harm to your license and reputation. Disciplinary actions can always result in a loss of clients, but presenting the best possible case can mean that many of the parents of the children in your care will believe your side of the story.
How a Mississippi Child Care License Defense Attorney Can Help You
When you retain the Lento Law Firm, we can support you in every stage of the disciplinary process. Whether you have just received notice of the disciplinary action against you or you are interested in filing an appeal, we are here to help develop an effective strategy to argue your case. Our team will learn everything there is to know about your case, the evidence against you, and the complaint. We review all this information and work with you to develop the best plan forward. We ensure that your rights are protected at every step of the way and that the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch never takes advantage of you or oversteps. Our attorneys will represent you in hearings and appeals before the Mississippi Department of Health and Chancery Court and handle all aspects of your case.
Lento Law Firm attorneys have a long history of working directly with the Child Care Facilities Licensure Branch; this means we can sometimes come to a resolution through negotiating as opposed to formal hearings and processes. Whether negotiations or formal hearings are necessary, the Lento Law Firm will work tirelessly to ensure your rights and license are preserved.
Areas the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team Serves
The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team has helped childcare providers all over the state of Mississippi in disciplinary actions against their licenses. While our team can help regardless of your location, our primary service areas are in the larger towns, including Jackson, Gulfport, Southaven, Biloxi, Hattiesburg, and Olive Branch.
Retain the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team
Having the best legal counsel in your child care license disciplinary action is crucial to protecting your license, livelihood, and reputation. It isn't only your family relying on you; it is also your staff, the children you care for, and their families who depend on you for financial and childcare support. The Lento Law Firm will do everything in its power to get you the best possible outcome, ideally retaining your license with minimal, if any, restrictions, fines, or penalties. To retain The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team, call 888.535.3685 or contact us online today.