8 On Your Side: Does Your Child's Daycare Meet State Standards?

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COLUMBIA - Many parents have to find a place they trust to drop off their kids while they go to work or run errands, but are all of them qualified to care for children? Missouri has a licensing program run by the Department of Health and Senior Services aimed at keeping daycares accountable and safe for children. It does this by requiring all childcare facilities with more than four unrelated children to have a license. It is against the law to not have a license in those cases.

End of the Rainbow childcare in Columbia off Old 63 is one example of a licensed and therefore law-abiding daycare in the area. It opened up 25 years ago and is liscensed to serve up to 159 children between the ages of six weeks to 12 years.

"Our mission is to provide a loving, fun, safe environment for all the children, as well as incorporating everyday life skills as well as their education aspect," said owner Nikki Reynolds.

To get the license, a childcare specialist with the department came to the center and checked for health and safety standards.  

"Cleanliness of the facility, the accessibility, you would look at things like is there an appropriate number of staff per children," Reynolds said.

The state also checks for things like:
- Making sure babies are put to sleep on their backs
- Fire extinguishers are present
- Children's immunization records and contact information are on file
- Enough equipment for all the children that the facility is serving
- A schedule for every classroom
- Hand-washing and sanitation
- Healthy meal plans
- Background checks for all staff members on file 

Jenna Higgins-Rose is one parent who takes her children to End of the Rainbow.  She said choosing a facility that is licensed is critical because it tells you that your child will be in a healthy and safe environment.   

It is free for childcare providers to obtain a license. Facilities must renew their license every two years and/or when they want to increase the number of children they are serving. 

The state may be able to keep a watchful eye on licenced facilities, but not all child-care providers seek out a license.  Some skip the lawful step and it takes community complaints to get the department to check-in. The Department of Health and Senior Services received 775 complaints statewide during a six-month period between August 2011 and January 2012.  The department investigated those and found 246 were legitimate, an average of 41 real complaints every month. Those cases are then sent to the Attorney General's office.  

"We take that very seriously, if a facility is in violation of the law we will work with them to get licensed, but at the end of the day you have to follow the law that is set forth," the department's communications director Gena Terlizzi said.

These procedures apply for childcare centers, group childcare homes, and in-home child care. Even though facilities like churches are license-exempt, the department still must inspect them.  For a full list of licensed childcare providers in the state click here. To file a complaint about a childcare facility click here.