Being a childcare provider can be a thankless job. You play an incredibly important role in the lives of the children you care for, serving as their support system and safety away from home. When you put so much love and care into your work, it is devastating to hear that your childcare license is being threatened. Having disciplinary action brought against you is no joke. Losing your license means losing your financial security and livelihood, potentially permanently. You owe it to yourself, your staff, and the children you care for to fight to uphold your childcare license.
To preserve your license, you need the support of the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. Our team understands all your hard work to become a childcare provider, including the time, money, and paperwork. We appreciate how you tend to the children you care for as if they are your own. Let us help you navigate the disciplinary actions being taken against your license. We will help you understand every step of the process, ensure your rights are protected, and do everything in our power to keep your childcare license active. If you want the Lento Law Firm to fight for you, call 888.535.3685 or contact us online today
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Licensing and Disciplinary Actions
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Child Care Licensing Program (referred to as “Child Care Licensing”) is in charge of licensing childcare facilities. Its job is to monitor, inspect, and support licensed and registered childcare facilities and assist those seeking to become licensed. Child Care Licensing is also in charge of child care policy, establishing regulations for the health and safety of children in childcare facilities. The Agency conducts pre-inspections prior to facility licensing as well as ongoing monitoring and annual inspections. They are also responsible for addressing all complaints about childcare facilities and providers.
There are four different types of facilities or providers that require either licensing or registration or are subject to regulation under Child Care Licensing. The difference between licensing and registration is nuanced. Montana defines a license as "a written document issued by the department that the license holder has complained with [Montana law] and the applicable standards and rules for day-care centers." A registration certification is "a written instrument [i.e., a written document] issued by the depart to publicly document that the certificate holder has, in writing, certified to the department compliance with [Montana law] and the applicable standards for family day-care homes and group day-care homes." This page will use the wording "license” but all information conveyed will also apply to registration certification.
These facilities and providers under the purview of Child Care Licensing are detailed below:
Child Care Center
Child Care Centers provide care to 16 or more children with specific staff-to-child ratios based on the age of the children. Child Care Centers must be licensed with Child Care Licensing. Child Care Centers are subject to annual Child Care Licensing inspections and annual visits from fire and health officials to ensure compliance with health and fire-related licensing requirements. Child Care Centers require licenses, while the below providers and facilities require a registration certificate.
Group Home Child Care
Group Home childcare facilities are those in which a minimum of two adults provide care for nine to fifteen children, with a limit of six children under the age of two. These facilities require registration with Child Care Licensing.
Family Home facilities are those where a single provider cares for three to eight children with no more than three children under the age of two. This type of facility is generally offered in the provider's residence. These facilities require registration with Child Care Licensing.
Friend, Family, Neighbor Provider
The Friend, Family, Neighbor provider is a less formal type of care, although it still requires Child Care Licensing registration. As with the Family Home facility, providers are typically providing care out of their personal residence. This type of provider is a friend, family member, neighbor, or someone the parent or guardian personally knows and has chosen to care for their child. This person may care for all the children in one family (without a child limit) or up to four unrelated children.
Relative Care Exempt Provider
Relative Care Exempt Providers are exactly as named; they are exempt from licensing and registration. But just because they are exempt from licensing and registration does not mean they do not fall under the purview of Child Care Licensing. Relative Care Exempt Providers are still subject to some, but not all, Child Care Licensing regulations. This type of provider is a family member of the child or children, including a sibling, first cousin, nephew, niece, grandchild, great-grandchild, step-parent, foster parent, or any adoptive parent or guardian.
Child Care Licensing does not require licensing of a variety of other programs, including before-school, drop-in, after-school, and preschool programs.
Montana Laws & Regulations
The primary Montana law governing child care licensing is the Montana Child Care Act. The law serves to "assure that children requiring daycare be provided with food, shelter, security and safety, guidance and direction, nurture and comfort, and learning experiences commensurate to their ages and capabilities so as to safeguard the growth and development of such children, thereby facilitated their proper physical and emotional maturation." The Montana Child Care Act also gives DPHHS the authority to develop and implement rules and regulations regarding childcare providers, licenses, and registrations.
The Disciplinary Process
While every case is different, if Child Care Licensing takes disciplinary action against you, the process will typically follow this trajectory:
There are numerous types of complaints, but this webpage will solely discuss licensing-related complaints. Complaints can come from a variety of sources; generally, complaints come from parents or guardians, neighbors, caregivers or employees, school officials, relatives, or government agencies such as the Child and Family Services Division. Complaints can be submitted on the DPHHS website through its Child Care Complaint Form or by contacting the DPHHS Child Care Licensing Office.
Complaints cannot be submitted anonymously, but Child Care Licensing will keep the complainant's name confidential during the investigation phase. Later in the process, Child Care Licensing will disclose the complainant's name.
Complaints must include the following specific information:
- The involved persons, including the complainant, any witnesses, any children injured, staff at the facility involved in the incident or may have knowledge of the incident
- If the complainant knows anyone else who might have knowledge of the same or a similar incident
- What the complainant's relationship is to the licensee (e.g., employee, former employee, volunteer, parent)
- How the complainant knows what occurred
- Identifying information of any children involved
- What specifically occurred
- What the complainant believes is the violation
- The severity of the injuries sustained
- The condition of the children in the facility's care
- When the incident occurred, and if it is reoccurring, when and how often it has been observed
- What caused the incident (e.g., if the provider or employee was ill or angry at the time of the incident)
If the complaint is related only to licensing and does not include any Child Protective Services issues, the assigned Child Care Licensing staff will assess the information in the complaint and determine if a licensing rule has potentially been violated. If they find a potential violation, the Agency will open an investigation.
The investigation will begin with an unannounced site visit, which should occur shortly after the complaint is received, ideally within seven days of receiving the complaint. The licensing investigation may be impacted by other agencies' investigations, such as investigations by law enforcement or DPHHS' Child and Family Services Division.
DPHHS Policy states the licensing investigation cannot be conducted in a capricious or oppressive way; the investigation must be conducted fairly and impartially. This includes investigating only aspects of the complaint relating to licensing; Child Care Licensing does not have the authority to investigate any Child Protective Services or other aspects of the complaint. While this may be the official policy, you can never guarantee that Child Care Licensing staff will be as impartial as required. Because of these potential biases, you need to retain a child care license defense attorney to ensure the Agency stays in its lane and does not violate your rights. The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team has extensive experience in making sure the Agency stays within its legal authority during its investigation.
During the investigation, Child Care Licensing staff will conduct interviews with children (with parental permission granted), staff of the child care facility, and other interested persons. The facility itself will also be inspected, allowing Child Care Licensing to observe any facility concerns. Child Care Licensing also has the authority to review all records on-site during its investigation. Other reports Child Care Licensing may review to collect evidence include Child Protective Services, Law Enforcement, Fire Department, Health Department, and other agency reports. Child Care Licensing may also review any photos, videos, or affidavits relevant to the complaint.
Child Care Licensing Determination
Following its investigation, Child Care Licensing will make one of two determinations: validated or not validated. If, in the course of their investigation, Child Care Licensing finds there is no direct evidence of a violation, they will notify you in writing of the investigation results, stating the investigation is closed and that no adverse licensing action will be taken as a result of this complaint. The letter you will receive is called the complaint conclusion letter.
If the claim is determined to be validated, it means that Child Care Licensing found noncompliance with licensing requirements. They will send you a notice with a deficiency notice and a correction plan. You will then be given time to make the corrections. Following the time detailed in the correction plan, Child Care Licensing will conduct a follow-up inspection.
After completing the follow-up inspection, Child Care Licensing can either determine whether the violations have been sufficiently addressed or it will take a negative disciplinary action. These negative disciplinary actions include suspension, probation, restriction, reduction to a provisional license, and revocation. Child Care Licensing will notify childcare resources and referral agencies to have your facility removed from their lists.
If DPHHS makes a determination you believe is unfair, you have the right to appeal. Once you have received written notice of DPHHS' decision, you have ten days to request a hearing; the Office of Administrative Hearings conducts hearings on decisions made by DPHHS. Your case will be assigned to an Administrative Law Judge who will then schedule a hearing. The Office of Administrative Hearings will notify you of the date and time of the hearing by a Notice of Hearing. At the hearing, you will be able to present your side of the story. You should never go into a hearing without your attorney.
Administrative hearings are legal proceedings and follow legal rules of procedure such as specific deadlines, document formatting, and rules for testimony and submitting evidence. Lento Law Firm attorneys are well-versed in these proceedings; we can advise you on the best strategy and defense to present at your hearing. You don't want to lose your case over technicalities and presenting a defense in a manner that is not admissible.
Office of Administrative Hearings' Determination
After reflecting on your hearing and weighing the evidence and law in your case, the Administrative Law Judge will prepare a decision and order. You will receive a copy of these documents by mail.
Despite your best efforts, you may not receive the decision you were hoping for. If you have not been represented by an attorney yet, this is a crucial time to retain a defense attorney. You may feel that all hope is lost at this point, but your Lento Law Firm attorney will do everything in their power to get you a successful outcome in your appeal. An appeal is a court proceeding, and as with any other court proceeding, representing yourself or selecting inexperienced counsel would be detrimental to your chances of saving your license.
To appeal the Administrative Judge's decision, your attorney will file a Petition for Judicial Review in the relevant Montana District Court. There are specific timelines and paperwork you must abide by when filing this appeal, so you must retain counsel immediately.
What Offenses Could Put Your License at Risk?
There are many violations that could put your childcare license at risk. Many of these violations apply to actions of you, your staff, a member of your household (if the child care facility is in your home), or a person staying in the facility regularly or frequently. Actions of this nature include, but are not limited to, convictions for the following crimes:
- Sexual intercourse without consent
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated assault
- Assault on a minor
- Assault with a weapon
- Child abuse or neglect
- Child sexual abuse
- Felony partner or family member assault
- Child pornography
- Child prostitution
- Internet crimes involving children
- Felony endangering the welfare of a child
- Distribution or possession of controlled substances and dangerous drugs
- Distribution, criminal possession, manufacture, or delivery of drug paraphernalia
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an elderly person or a person with a developmental disability
Your license may also be threatened for administrative or facility-based violations, some of which include:
- Child Care Licensing is denied access to the facility or facility records
- Child care provider has either negligently or intentionally made misrepresentations to Child Care Licensing or DPHHS
- A child care provider or their staff has violated a licensing regulation that results in harm to a child
Why You Need a Montana Child Care License Defense Attorney
Defending your child care license without an attorney is a gamble. It is too much for anyone to learn the ins and outs of DPHHS disciplinary actions, administrative appeals, and appeals in the District Court. You cannot know how to do this on your own with the immense emotional toll defending your license will take on your mental and potentially physical health. You must also consider that Child Care Licensing has abundant staff and resources who will be pursuing the investigation and disciplinary action against you. Particularly when it comes to matters involving children and child care, the government will always thoroughly investigate, leaving no stone unturned. Thankfully, you don't have to educate yourself on all these processes, laws, and regulations or go into this battle alone. The Lento Law Firm has years of practice in this area of law.
How a Montana Child Care License Defense Attorney Can Help You
The Lento Law Firm is here to support you regardless of where you are in the disciplinary process. Whether you have just received notice of disciplinary action or you need to appeal the determination against you in District Court, our attorneys will develop an effective and detailed strategy for your success.
We learn everything we can about your case, including hearing your side of the story and reviewing the complaint against you and the evidence. We will help you collect evidence to support your case and present your defense before Child Care Licensing, the Administrative Law Judge, or the District Court.
Our attorneys are also experienced in working directly with government agencies, creating open and cooperative lines of communication. This means that in some cases, the Lento Law Firm can resolve your case through negotiations instead of more hostile and formal methods. Whichever route will get you the best possible outcome is the route we will take to increase your chances of retaining your childcare license.
Areas the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team Serves
Montana has over 74,000 children under the age of and about 90,500 children ages 6 to 12. Many of these children have parents in the workforce and need full-time or part-time child care. In fact, in Montana, there are more children in need of child care than there are slots available in childcare centers or programs. With the state's child care shortage, it is even more important that you retain your child care license, not only for you but for the families you work for who could very possibly be unable to find alternative child care.
The Lento Law Firm has provided professional license defense to childcare providers throughout Montana. Our main service areas are the larger cities, including Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, and Bozeman, but regardless of where you are in Montana, we can help.
Retain the Lento Law Firm's Processional License Defense Team
You have put so much into obtaining your childcare license, and your work as a childcare provider has greatly benefited the children in your care and their parents alike. And just as you have protected countless children in your care, you need to protect yourself and your license to continue this meaningful work.
You must do everything in your power to fight for your child care license, including retaining the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. Our team understands how difficult and stressful these disciplinary actions are for you, and we will do everything in our power to eliminate as much of the stress as possible for you while getting you the best possible outcome. To retain the Lento Law Firm, call 888.535.3685 or contact us online today.