State regulatory standards for child care facilities and providers are to ensure the health and safety of children, mandating the best quality of attention and instruction that can be provided to meet parental needs. A licensed or certified child care program in Wisconsin must meet requirements managed by the state's Department of Children and Families (DCF.) The agency supports and oversees county administration of programs, licensing facilities that provide out-of-home care for children, and regulating smaller child care providers.
Licensees and certification holders of all classifications must remain compliant with a stringent set of rules governing education criteria, nutrition standards, safety protocols, and staff qualifications, among others. If allegations of non-compliance arise, DCF 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 agency disciplinary authorities, the administrative proceedings employed vary differently from those commonly seen in civil matters or those engaged in a courtroom. For example, DCF and state adjudicatory bodies have unique evidentiary standards and timelines and fewer means of redress following sanctions. Moreover, once a license or certification is revoked, reapplying can take years.
One of the most essential facets of operating a Wisconsin child care facility is knowing where to turn when allegations of non-compliance or complaints arise. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team works hard to defend child care licensees against harsh discipline from state governing bodies. They understand the difficulties present during complaint investigations, gathering evidence, testifying in hearings, and how sanctions can disrupt the care they provide for children. For professional guidance on navigating disciplinary action, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today or go online immediately for help.
Wisconsin Child Care Licensing Standards
In Wisconsin, no person may provide care and supervision for four or more children under the age of seven for less than 24 hours a day unless that person obtains a license from the agency to operate a child care center. Subsequently, there are hundreds of different child care facilities and provider settings across Wisconsin, which are categorized primarily through their license type. DCF issues the following state licenses:
- Licensed Family Child Care Centers: Typically in-home care settings with one provider managing four to eight children.
- Licensed Group Child Care Centers: Usually found in commercial buildings and non-residence settings staffed with multiple caregivers for nine or more children.
- Licensed Day Camps:Seasonal programs that provide experiences for four or more children who are at least three years old, operating primarily in an outdoor setting.
Some child care programs may operate with or be contracted by a Wisconsin public school for various reasons, like day camps or after-school supervision. If the child care program receives state subsidies on behalf of an eligible family or will participate in Wisconsin's quality rating and improvement system, they must remain in compliance with a subset of the rules and regulations for group child care centers.
DCF requires background checks as a foundation for all licensed programs, including administering them to all caregivers, non-caregiver employees, and in-home residents aged ten or older. Each category of child care license will also require health and safety inspections and background checks for non-licensed employment-related daycare providers.
The licensing process in Wisconsin involves several steps, including maintaining a facility—commercial or residence—and complying with local planning and zoning laws. Applicants must also submit a complete building schematic for DCF to review to judge conformity with the dimensions of rooms where children will be located, vehicle maintenance logs, proper food, water, and sanitation facilities, and more. Licensing specialists will conduct visits at least once per year to determine employee qualifications, staff‐to‐child ratios, and rules specific to the age groups accommodated by the facility or provider.
Wisconsin Child Care Certification
DCF also maintains another tier of child care credentials. Wisconsin's child care certification is a voluntary form of regulation available for providers who are not required to be licensed but who wish to care for fewer than four children under seven years of age. To receive subsidies and partner with local schools, providers must at least be certified, or they risk penalties for operating without state credentials.
Certified child care providers must also meet minimum requirements and have mandatory training, much like license holders. Including the volunteers in certified child care programs, each caregiver must complete and pass a background check, have competency in emergency first aid, possess foundational child care training, and remain current with annual continuing education.
Wisconsin 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. Complaints regarding licensed child care programs and license-exempt public school programs are reported to DCF's Bureau of Early Care Regulation Regional Licensing Office. Complaints regarding certified child care programs are reported to county-level certification agencies.
DCF and its subsidiaries will investigate every complaint alleging a violation of a licensing or certification requirement. However, the agency will not assess situations not covered by licensing or certification regulation—for instance, payment disputes between providers and consumers. The agency's investigation may include an unannounced visit to the program to observe conditions, interviewing the licensee, certified operator, and current or former staff members, and conducting a thorough check of facility and provider records.
After the initial investigation, licensing specialists will assess the situation and create a report. DCF will then render one of the following conclusions regarding the alleged violation:
- Substantiated: There is evidence that non-compliance or a violation occurred.
- Unsubstantiated: There is evidence that non-compliance or a violation did not occur.
Any violations discovered during the complaint investigation are identified on a Non-compliance Statement and Correction Plan. The complainant may request the investigation findings report and provide it to others who may inquire about a center or provider's complaint and compliance history. Violations are also posted on Wisconsin's Child Care Public Search website for consumers to review prior to selecting a program or in their continual evaluation of a program.
Child Care License Suspension and Revocation Hearings and Appeals
Although DCF may place a 30-day delay on the imposition of sanctions, the agency maintains the authority to immediately suspend or revoke a license or certification. Prior to that, however, the agency may enact a summary suspension.
Under a summary suspension, a child care center is closed when authorities find that the "public health, safety or welfare" of children requires emergency action. Within 72 hours after the order takes effect, DCF will either permit the reopening of the center after corrections have been made or proceed to revoke the license. Any licensee aggrieved by the decision to revoke a license may request a hearing through the Wisconsin Department of Administration's (DOA) division of hearings and appeals within ten days of the disciplinary notice.
The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge (ALJ), sometimes known as a hearing examiner. An ALJ may not speak with either party in the case without the other present and may or may not be the final decision-maker in the matter.
License revocation cases can involve pre-hearing conferences, but it is not a requirement. Nonetheless, such proceedings will include the following:
- Clarifying misunderstandings between agency and provider.
- Agree on as many of the undisputed facts as possible.
- Identity disagreements to be addressed during the hearing.
- Establish a timetable to prepare for and conduct the eventual hearing.
It is possible that cases may be resolved prior to the hearing. ALJs can even extend timetables to allow for parties to enter into an agreement outside of an official hearing. When DOA matters are settled between parties, they enter into compromises, stipulations, and settlement agreements. ALJs will issue a legal order—a final decision—to both parties and may implement slight alternatives. Settlement discussions are usually not disclosed to the ALJ, and if the matter does go to a full hearing, they cannot be mentioned.
Otherwise, when the hearing begins in front of the ALJ, each party may make an opening statement to present a brief synopsis of their standpoint on license revocation. Afterward, the party requesting the hearing or appeal will present evidence first, including witness testimony if applicable, and the opposite party may engage in cross-examination. The evidence may be in physical form or through oral testimony from witnesses. Generally, witnesses can testify only on matters about which they have personal knowledge.
After all the evidence has been presented, parties may re-examine the other parties' witness testimony or evidence before making a closing statement. They may summarize or further comment on the evidence that has been presented and even argue how the case should be decided. The ALJ or DOA decision-maker will render a final decision, affirming the DCF's motion to revoke a license or recommending alternative sanctions.
License Revocation Initial Affects
Once a final order is given and license revocation remains a sanction, child care facilities, and providers must immediately notify all parents of the closure, as well as post a notice of closure that the public can view. If a settlement is reached instead of revocation or a license is in the middle of a summary suspension, there will only be a short time to complete necessary corrections to gain compliance. Unfortunately, DCF's authority can leave facilities and providers with complex obstacles to navigate to align with agency rules and final orders. But any complaint against a facility or provider or an allegation of non-compliance is a threat to a Wisconsin 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 allegations can seriously harm any facility or in-home provider. It's imperative that you know where to turn for advocacy and defense.
Why You Need the Lento Law Firm to Help Protect Your Wisconsin 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 communication with parents. However, navigating complaint procedures and DOA 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 tirelessly 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 DOA hearings and appeals in front of the ALJ and properly defended against agency authorities. However, the Lento Law Firm can also be a resource in many other steps along the way to retaining your license, like the following:
- Helping instruct facility child care staff members and volunteers on their rights when complaints or allegations arise or when the center is under investigation by licensing 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 DCF, DOA, or other authorities involved.
- Lead negotiations with state officials and broker resolutions before official proceedings begin.
- Pursue further appellate measures with the Wisconsin state court system if needed.
Working hastily 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 Wisconsin
Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin can find child care facilities that suit their specific needs, whether it's full-time care, part-time care, or early education.
DCF licenses child care centers through five Division of Early Care and Education regional offices. Below is an overview of the counties and tribes within each region.
Northeastern Region: Headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the area includes Brown, Calumet, Door, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marinette, Marquette, Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Shawano, Sheboygan, Washington, Waupaca, Waushara, and Winnebago counties. The Northeastern Region also encompasses the Menominee, Oneida, Stockbridge, Munsee, and Ho-Chunk tribes.
Northern Region: Centered in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, the area includes Ashland, Bayfield, Florence, Forest, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Oneida, Portage, Price, Sawyer, Taylor, Vilas, and Wood counties. The Northern Region also encompasses the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreille, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Sokaogon, Forest County Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk tribes.
Southeastern Region: Based around the Waukesha, Wisconsin, metropolitan area, the region includes Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine, and Waukesha counties
Southern Region: With its foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, the area includes Adams, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Juneau, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, Sauk, and Walworth counties, as well as the Ho-Chunk tribe.
Western Region: Headquartered in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the area includes Barron, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Clark, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, LaCrosse, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, St. Croix, Trempealeau, Vernon, and Washburn counties, as well as the Ho-Chunk Tribe.
Attorneys from the Lento Law Firm serve each one of these areas. No matter where your facility or in-home setting is located, we can help you.
Consequences of Losing a Wisconsin Child Care License
Losing a child care license is a serious event with far-reaching implications. Since child care licensees must provide vital information to the state, all sanctions, including investigations, can be found online in many circumstances. 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 DOA proceedings, the orders and sanctions take place immediately. If the ALJ affirms a license revocation from DCF, 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. Even with a shorter-term license suspension, it can lead to the breakdown of a provider's ability to restart after the disciplinary period ends.
Commercial facilities and in-home child care providers rely on competent, compassionate, and dedicated staff 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. 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.
With these considerable consequences, any Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin Facilities and Providers
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is dedicated to helping Wisconsin 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 DCF or other governing bodies.
Local lawyers may try to sell clients their courtroom experience as a means to defend the status of a child care license or even their aggressive "bulldog" mentality in front of county prosecutors. However, administrative hearings have different processes and standards, including that of evidence. For instance, in Wisconsin DOA proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the party requesting the hearing or appeal, which presents a far more precarious starting point for a defense strategy. As well, you need stress-free assistance to retain your child care credentials, not forceful legal tactics that fail to serve your best interests and potentially lead to years of litigation.
Get the assistance you need to properly defend yourself and maintain your child care credentials in Wisconsin. Call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team at 888-535-3686 today for help, or schedule a consultation online.