You’ve come to the conclusion that you want to open your own child care center.
The motivation that led you to this point might be respect for a fabulous center you experienced or perhaps it was just the opposite, a bad experience with a center that drove you to create your own stellar facility where children will receive top-notch care in a loving and developmentally appropriate atmosphere.
Like all businesses, there are some great child care centers, some good centers and some not so good childcare centers.
Once you have decided to own/operate a center, you want to take every measure possible to be in the “great” category. The children and families you serve, as well as the staff you employ, deserve nothing less than the best.
There’s a whole host of reasons why some centers excel while others struggle:
- Lack of a realistic plan
- Inadequate funding
- Mediocre staff
- Lack of appreciation for the commitment involved
These are all common reasons for downfall. If, after careful thought, you still find yourself with a strong desire to embark on this worthy mission of service to the smallest members of your community, do yourself and everyone involved a huge favor by making a solid plan that includes all the “how’s” and “what if’s”.
STOP! It’s the Law!
In the state of Florida, the first stop you need to make is a visit to the website for the Florida Department of Children and Families (http://occf-fl-dcf.org/). There you will find the specific rules and regulations regarding the operation of a child care center in the state.
Although Florida does give individual counties the power to administer centers within their counties, most counties with the exception of Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota choose to waive that authority to the state level.
In an attempt to save yourself time and money, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with all the rules and regulations.
Licensing is mandatory and all- inclusive in the state of Florida. Your building, staff and all aspects of the operation must meet or exceed the state mandates.
These very strict guidelines serve as protections against substandard care and potential harmful situations. Assuming you are fully aware and accepting of the regulations, let’s take an abbreviated look at the steps for turning your dream into reality.
How to Start a Daycare in Florida
1. Look around!
Do a market study. If you have the funds, you could have a formal study completed or with a little legwork, you can do it yourself. Completing your own market study will give you a chance to get an idea of the “competition”.
Check out on-line listings for centers in the area where you are also interested in operating. You don’t want to position yourself in the backyard of a center that has already captured the market.
Drive around, take a look, call and pose as a potential client to other centers and ask questions, read the reviews for other centers and learn what types of things parents complain about and what they praise. Get an idea of the rates that are being charged in your geographic area and the typical hours of operation that most centers follow.
Try to think of yourself as a potential client shopping for child care. What issues would be of importance to you? What types of things are big “turn-offs”? BE NOSEY!
Where do you plan to get the capital necessary to not only open the doors to your brand new center, but also to support an operating budget of one year, which is the suggested nest egg you should have to adequately meet the expenses related to the center while giving it adequate time to grow and generate on-going revenue to meet the budget.
If you intend to secure a business loan from the bank:
- Be prepared to show your market study with supporting details
- Create an estimated budget including everything from insurance, staff wages, supplies, utilities, rent etc.
- Like any new business seeking bank financing, you must be prepared to sell yourself and your idea for success by covering all the angles and assessing any potential risks and pitfalls that might derail your dream.
3. Location, location location!
Provided you understand and can meet all the regulations and you have secured funding and can meet a budget, it’s time to commit to a location that will meet the stringent regulations noted by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Be sure to pay attention to local zoning rules by contacting local officials with your plans before formally securing a location. They will educate you as to fire safety regulations for public buildings, potential environmental factors in the area that you may have been unaware of, water/sewer services etc.
It is important to notify local law enforcement and fire personnel of your plan since they will service your needs in the event of an emergency.
Often times, it makes sense to secure a building that has been previously used in a similar capacity so that you will not be tasked with making significant modifications that could be costly.
Now begins what will ultimately become a large volume of paperwork related to the licensing of your center and staff.
Begin the process with a commitment to complete each task thoroughly. Keep in mind that every time you submit paperwork that needs to be returned to you for inadequate or missing information, it will stall your process towards receiving a license to operate.
The initial document required to kick off the licensing process is referred to as the Florida Licensure Survey.
Upon completion of this document, you will be assigned a counselor who will serve as a guide and contact person throughout the process. The state appointed counselor will educate you and provide invaluable information. Embrace their experience and learn from them!
5. All Hands On Deck!
It goes without saying that you will most definitely need to hire staff to help carry out your mission. The careful selection of staff is paramount to the success of your center.
Recruit and hire people who are loving and compassionate and share your mission to bring happiness and joy to this new little “community” you are creating.
Do not fail to recognize the impact substandard staff can have on the children, fellow staff and the reputation of your fledgling business.
Keep in mind that each staff member is mandated by the state to complete a 40 hour training program and subsequent competency exam. Upon completion of these requirements, the staff members will be issued a Staff Credential that is valid for one year and is renewable with the completion of 10 hours of continuing education annually.
You will not be able to secure the license for your center until each staff member has met this requirement as well as all applicable background checks. As the owner/operator of your center, it behooves you to organize and support the educational requirements of your staff.
6. Go Shopping!
By this point in the process, your counselor and you will have begun to form a relationship and you will have a good feel for how long it is going to be until you can hang the “Open For Business” sign. Stocking your classrooms with the many items necessary to care for the children requires research on your part. Be sure to:
- Choose items that are safe (with no recalls), sturdy and creative.
- Focus on open-ended toys that allow for creativity and discovery.
- Choose furniture that will stand the test of time and have resilient, easy to clean surfaces. Draw on your own experiences as a parent or as a friend of people with children as to what types of items will best serve the needs in your child care center.
- Seek the types of toys that hold attention and can be modified or expanded for further enjoyment and learning.
7. Let them know where you are
Take a deep breath and begin the process of advertising. Leave no stone unturned.
- Get a website
- Run advertisements in the newspaper
- Hang a big sign in front of your building
- Hang signs and flyers in public places
- Tell your friends, neighbors and anyone who will listen about this great new child care center that is about to open
- Be sure to have business cards made and carry them with you every place you go.
Now is not the time to be shy…you could have the best child care center in the world but if nobody knows you are there, it won’t flourish. Take pride in what you have accomplished and share it with others!
Once you have passed the inspections and you have earned the license, hang it in a conspicuous location and host an Open House. Invite the public to see the fruits of your labor and be a part of something new and exciting.
- Be sure to have your staff present and ready to cheerfully greet your potential clients
- Allow visiting families to linger and ask questions
- Have enrollment packets ready for interested families
- Post daily schedules and plans for upcoming themed fun days and activities so your visitors can see the preparation that has taken place
* Remember the old saying, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Do whatever you need to do to make your center shine for your potential clients.
9. Set an opening date
It’s time to take the plunge! The hard work of setting up is over and now is the time to transition into the daily schedule of tending to the children and guiding them through joyful learning and development.
Your oversight as owner/operator of the child care center is on-going and imperative to its longevity and success. When you operate a center, there is no such things as being “done”. The center and the staff must be constantly changing and evolving to meet the needs of a changing and growing clientele.
Your counselor will remain a point of contact and a resource to guide you through the on-going requirements of annual inspection and license renewal. It will be your job as owner/operator to maintain accurate and up-to-date files on the children in your care and the staff you employ.
As your centers grows and becomes more financially solvent, you may choose to use software systems or hire an administrative assistant that help with the office related tasks that can drain you of time.
The Fruits of Your Labor
One morning you will pull into your center and you will see children running and playing.
You will open a classroom door and be greeted by the joyous smiles of your smallest friends as they discover and learn beside their playmates. You will receive thanks and accolades from the parents who leave their children in the care of your staff knowing that they are safe and loved.
The burdensome and stressful process of opening the center will become a distant memory. You will begin to understand why the rules and regulations are in place. You will lead your staff to grow through continuing to perfect their skills as early educators.
You will be witness to events that test the safety of your program and the judgement of your staff. You will gain an appreciation of the long and arduous process of owning/operating a child care center and you will be thankful that only the committed and deserving reach the status of a state licensed child care center in the state of Florida.