Before starting a childcare business in Mississippi, you’ll need to understand all of the state’s rules and regulations for licensing. This guide will help you learn about which childcare businesses require a license, understand how to apply for one, and provide information on keeping your operations compliant.
Do I need a child care license in Mississippi?
If you want to start a daycare business in Mississippi, the first place to start is licensure. A child care license is required in Mississippi if you care for six (6) or more children that are younger than 13 years old who are not related to you for any part of the day, even if you conduct in-home child care. Not all child care providers need a license, so you’ll need to determine whether you are exempt. However, you can choose to voluntarily apply for a license even if your program does not require one.
The following programs are exempt from licensure as detailed in Mississippi’s licensing guide:
- Child care facilities that operate for no more than two (2) days a week and whose primary purpose is to provide respite for the caregiver or temporary care during other scheduled or related activities.
- Organized programs that operate for three (3) or less weeks per year including but not limited to vacation Bible schools and scout day camps.
- Any child residential home as defined in and in compliance with the provisions of Section 43-16-3 (b) et seq., Mississippi Code of 1972.
- Any program in an elementary (including kindergarten) and/or secondary school system accredited by the Mississippi State Department of Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the Mississippi Private School Association, the American Association of Christian Schools, the Association of Christian Schools International, or a school affiliated with Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. This includes accredited pre-K3 and pre-K4 programs. Programs serving children less than three (3) years of age must be licensed.
- Any Head Start program operating in conjunction with an elementary school system, whether it is public, private, or parochial, whose primary purpose is a structured school or school readiness program. This includes Head Start pre-K3 and pre-K4 programs. Head Start programs serving children less than three (3) years of age must be licensed.
- Any family child care home defined in Mississippi Code Section 43-20-53 (a) et seq. To wit: An occupied residence in which shelter and personal care is regularly provided for five (5) or fewer children who are not related within the third degree computed according to the civil law to the provider and who are under 13 years of age and are provided care for any part of the twenty-four hour day. These homes may be voluntarily registered with the Mississippi State Department of Health.
- Any membership organization affiliated with a national organization that charges only a nominal annual membership fee, does not receive monthly, weekly, or daily payments for services, and is certified by its national association as complying with the association’s minimum standards and procedures, including, but not limited to, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and the YMCA. A nominal fee is defined as $600 or less per calendar year.
Child care licensing requirements in Mississippi
The state of Mississippi provides thorough information on how to get a child care license. Before beginning the process, it’s important to know whether you qualify to be the director of a childcare program. If you do not meet all of the requirements set by the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), then you must hire a qualified director to run the program for you. To qualify, MSDH states that an applicant must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Have a valid MSDH Immunization Form 121 or Certificate of Medical Exemption Form 122
- Pass all required criminal history record checks, including fingerprint, Child Abuse Central Registry, and Sex Offender checks
- Must have taken the mandatory child care provider training on the regulations governing licensure of childcare facilities, directors orientation, and playground safety
- Meet at least one of these education/experience requirements:
- A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, child development, elementary education, child care, special education, psychology (with emphasis on child psychology), or family and consumer sciences (with emphasis on child development), or equivalent degree from another child-related field or course of study
- A two-year associate’s degree from an accredited community or junior college in child development technology, which must include a minimum of 480 hours of practical training, supervised by college instructors, in a college-operated child care learning laboratory
- A two-year associate’s degree from an accredited community or junior college in child development technology or child care and two years paid experience in a licensed child care facility
- Two years paid experience as a caregiver in a licensed child care facility, and either (1) a current Child Development Associate (CDA) credential from the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition (CECPR), or (2) a Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), Division of Early Childhood Care and Development (DECCD) Child Care Director’s Credential or MDHS OCY Child Care Director’s Credential, or (3) 24 semester hours credit with a grade of “C” or better from an accredited college or university in courses specific to early childhood
- A verified certificate from the licensing agency certifying that the individual was qualified to be the director of a licensed child care facility prior to January 1, 2000, in the state of Mississippi
In addition to the requirements for the applicant, there are also requirements for the child-to-staff ratios in your program. The ratios must be met all times, including as the center is closing and opening. The minimum required ratios are as follows:
- For children under 1 year old: Five children for one staff member (5:1)
- For children 1 year old: Nine children for one staff member (9:1)
- For children 2 years old: Twelve children for one staff member (12:1)
- For children 3 years old: Fourteen children for one staff member (14:1)
- For children 5 to 9 years old: Twenty children for one staff member (20:1)
- For children 10 to 12 years old: Twenty five children for one staff member (25:1)
There are also requirements for the building where you plan to operate your childcare program. The building must meet basic health and safety standards as well as be an optimal place for children. Part of the application will include a building evaluation. The below are MSDH’s building requirements:
- Zoning approval
- Meet fire safety standards
- Wastewater disposal and potable (drinking) water approval is required if the proposed facility is on an individual wastewater disposal system and/or well
- Playground area (at least 75 square feet per child in a fenced-in playground) must be well drained and free of hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions. All playgrounds must be tested for lead
- If the building was constructed before 1965, it must be tested for lead
- The building must have:
- Ground floor space
- Two remote exits that must open outward and cannot be through the kitchen
- Forty square feet per child in infant areas (less than 12 months of age). Forty-five square feet per child (12 months but less than 24 months). Thirty-five square feet per child for all others. Kitchen space, bathrooms, hallways, and closets do not count as usable floor space
- One toilet and one lavatory for every fifteen children or portion thereof, not counting diaper-changing lavatories. All lavatories must have hot and cold running water
- All rooms occupied by diaper-wearing children must have a diaper changing area in the room and a lavatory with hot and cold running water
- The kitchen must have:
- Minimum required size of 90 square feet, and no more than the maximum required size of 300 square feet
- A handwashing lavatory
- A three-compartment sink or commercial dishwasher. (Certain exemptions exist for centers serving 12 or fewer children in the operator’s home)
If you are planning to renovate an existing building or build a new facility, the blueprints/plans must be reviewed by a licensing official before construction. This ensures that the facility will meet all of the requirements. It will also be subject to inspections by the local health department and fire department. Consider all of these requirements as you begin writing your daycare business plan.
Childcare license application in Mississippi
If you meet the director requirements and the building requirements for providing child care in Mississippi, then you are ready to start a new child care license application. However, before you begin, the MSDH recommends that you wait before signing a lease or purchasing a building until after the building inspection is complete, so you know it meets all of the requirements. Also be prepared to wait up to 90 days (or longer) to obtain your license after your application has been submitted. If approved, your initial license will be a temporary license that is valid for six months and must be upgraded to a regular license during that time.
Follow the steps below to apply for a childcare provider license:
Step 1: Complete an online application
The first step of the application process is to complete an online application. Follow the MSDH’s instructions for the license application. Once the online portion is complete, a child care licensing inspector will contact you to guide you through the next steps.
Step 2: Review materials
Learn about all of the requirements for operating a compliant childcare business in Mississippi. Review the MSDH child care regulations and guidelines.
Step 3: Submit required documentation
You must submit additional documentation with your application including documentation that the facility has a qualified director, criminal records checks and immunization forms for every employee, fire inspection form, floor plan, and verification of training. You will also need to pay the application fee and initial licensure fee, which is determined by your program’s capacity.
Step 4: Receive a decision
Once MSDH has received and reviewed your online application and documents, you will receive a decision. If you’ve met all of the applicant and building requirements, you should expect to receive an approval. If approved, you will soon receive a temporary license. In the meantime, you can choose a name for your program and begin marketing your daycare business, but you cannot begin operating until you receive your temporary license. After that, a representative from MSDH will reach out to you with information about how to upgrade to a regular license and assist you with that process. Be sure to keep copies of all of your documents throughout the process in case they are needed again.
A probationary license may be given if violations are found that may endanger the health or safety of the children but may be corrected within a specified period that cannot exceed six months. A restricted license may be granted when the health or safety of the children requires a conditional or restrictive statement on the license, such as barring certain individuals or situations. Any violation of those terms will result in the immediate emergency suspension of the license. When the MSDH decides that the conditions or restrictions are no longer a threat to the children in care, then the statement may be removed from the license.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Mississippi
Receiving your initial child care license from MSDH does not guarantee licensure forever. Any lapse in compliance with regulations, laws, and rules can put your licensure in jeopardy. MSDH offers a resource guide for childcare providers as an easy-to-use reference for what is expected of your licensed childcare business.
The best way to remain in compliance is to stay on top of license renewals. Every child care provider license must be renewed one year after the previous one was issued. You should receive reminders via email at 90, 60, and 30 days prior to your license’s expiration. You do have the option to renew your license online by completing a renewal application. There is a license renewal fee and a $25 late fee for any applications that aren’t submitted at least 30 days before the expiration of the license.
Additional requirements for compliance include ensuring that every child care regulation and guideline continues to be followed by all existing and new employees, meaning any new hires must also complete background checks. This also includes maintaining the proper ratio of children to caretakers, facility maintenance, square footage requirements, safety standards, and more. MSDH conducts inspections of licensed child care facilities at least twice a year, and any violations will be made public record.
In addition to all of the rules and policies you must follow in order to stay compliant, you are also required to provide a good environment for children. Creating a safe, comfortable childcare program for children and an organized, well-maintained working environment for staff is important. The busyness of day-to-day operations could make it difficult to keep up with smaller tasks, such as record keeping and invoicing. A tool like brightwheel’s center management software simplifies administrative tasks in one system, saving you valuable time and ensuring your program runs smoothly.
Provide more than just child care
Creating a great childcare program that is impactful for children and your community can be a rewarding business. Once you understand the licensing requirements and the application process in Mississippi, you are well on your way to providing high-quality child care.