The quality of care provided by licensed childcare facilities is significant to the success of young children. There are more benefits to child care than guiding children through the development of their physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills. Daycare gives young children a routine, provides opportunities for socialization and fun, and helps them transition into academic settings.
Starting a daycare and being an educator is a fulfilling responsibility. Use this article as a complete guide to learn how you can start a daycare in Missouri, what you need to apply for a childcare license, and how to stay compliant with licensing requirements.
Do I need a childcare license in Missouri?
Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is the governing agency for child care in the state. To prevent injury, risk, or harm to dependent children in out-of-home childcare settings, the department assures their health, safety, and development through childcare licensing requirements.
To start a childcare center, group childcare home, and family childcare home, you are required to be licensed in the state. These programs are defined as:
- Childcare center: A program conducted in a location other than the provider’s permanent residence, or separate from the provider’s living space, where care is provided to children for any part of the day
- Group childcare home: A program conducted in a location other than the provider’s permanent residence, or separate from the provider’s living space, where care is provided to no more than 20 children for any part of the day
- Family childcare home: A program where care is given by a person licensed as a childcare home provider for no more than 10 children for any part of the day
Certain facilities are not required to obtain a childcare license. You can file a Program Evaluation Questionnaire (PEQ) with the DESE to get an exemption assessment. As outlined by Missouri Public Health and Welfare laws, examples of childcare operators or facilities that exemption applies to include:
- Any person who is caring for up to six children including a maximum of three children under the age of two at the same physical address
- Any summer camp that is conducted in good faith primarily to provide recreation
- Any Montessori school or a childcare program that is either accredited by, actively seeking accreditation, or maintains active school membership with a national or international Montessori association
- Any business that operates a childcare program for the convenience of its customers if:
- The business provides childcare for employee’s children for no more than four hours per day
- Customers remain on site while their children are being cared for by the childcare provider
- Any nursery school—a program operated with the primary function of providing an education program for preschool-age children for no more than four hours per day
Depending on the type of licensing exemption a program qualifies for, the program may still be required to comply with certain childcare laws and regulations. For more information on which childcare facilities are exempt from licensing in Missouri, visit the DESE resources on licensing rules and laws.
Childcare licensing requirements in Missouri
Licensed childcare centers, group childcare homes, and family childcare homes are required to comply with the licensing requirements set by the Missouri DESE. The Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Homes and Child Care Centers and the Licensing Rules for Family Child Care Homes regulate facility conditions to ensure they promote the health and safety of children in their care.
Group childcare homes and childcare centers
In Missouri, the education and experience requirements depend solely on the licensed capacity. Group childcare home providers must satisfy the requirements for a capacity of up to 20 children while center directors must satisfy at least one of the following education credentials:Up to 20 children:
- 30 college semester hours with six of the 30 hours in child-related courses
- 12 months of experience with six college semester hours in child-related courses as well as a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or Youth Development Credential (YDC)
- 60 college semester hours with 12 of the hours in child-related courses
- 24 months of experience and 12 college semester hours in child-related courses
- 90 college semester hours with 18 of the hours in child-related courses
- 36 months of experience with 18 college semester hours in child-related courses
100 or more children:
- 120 college semester hours with 24 of the hours in child-related courses where six of the 24 hours may include courses in business or management
- Four years of experience and 24 college semester hours in child-related courses where six of the 24 hours may include business or management courses
The following staff-to-child ratios must be maintained in group childcare homes and childcare centers at all times based on the following age groups:
- Birth through two years: Mixed-age groups from birth through two-years old should have no less than one adult to four children (1:4) and no more than eight children
- Two years old: Groups of only two-year-olds should have no less than one adult to eight children (1:8) and no more than 16 children in a group
- Three- to four-years old: Groups of three- and four-year olds should have no less than one adult to 10 children (1:10)
- Five years old and older: Groups of five-year-olds and older should have no less than one adult to every 16 children (1:16)
- Mixed-age groups of two-year-olds and older: Groups should have no less than one adult to 10 children (1:10) with a maximum of four two-year olds. When there are more than four two-year-olds, the staff-to-child ratio should be no less than one adult to eight children (1:8)
The staff-to-child ratios in Missouri group childcare homes and childcare centers also include the following special considerations:
- If a center has an attendance of more than 50 children, the center director or individual in charge should not be included in staff-to-child ratios except during naptime or as an emergency substitute.
- If a center has an attendance of more than 30 children at lunch or dinner time, staff shall be provided for meal preparation, serving, and clean-up. The staff should not be included in staff-to-child ratios during this time.
- Individuals employed for clerical, housekeeping, cleaning, and maintenance shall not be included in staff-to-child ratios while performing those duties.
Family childcare homes
The provider of family childcare homes is required to meet the following requirements as an applicant:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have at least 12 clock hours of department-approved childcare-related training during each calendar year
- Familiarize themselves with child abuse and neglect law for reporting
- Have documentation in age-appropriate first aid and CPR training
- Complete sleep-safe training according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe sleep recommendations
- Be in good physical and emotional health and have a medical examination report on file
Family childcare homes cannot exceed care for more than 10 children. The following ratios must be maintained at all times:
- One caregiver for up to four children (1:4) with a maximum of four of the children under age two
- One caregiver for five to six children (1:5-6) with a maximum of three of the children under age two
- One caregiver for seven to 10 children (1:7-10) with a maximum of two of the children under age two
- Two caregivers for up to eight children (2:8) with a maximum of eight children under age two
- Two caregivers for up to 10 children (2:10) with a maximum of four children under age two
The licensing requirements set by DESE are extensive; however, they create an excellent system for providing quality child care in Missouri. For more information on licensing requirements, visit the DESE resources page.
Childcare license application in Missouri
Whether you’re looking to open a childcare center or start a preschool at home, use the following steps to complete the application process.
Step 1: Complete the licensing orientation
To open a licensed childcare center, licensed group childcare home, or licensed family childcare home, you will need to take the free licensing orientation provided by the DESE. This one-hour session provides an overview of the licensing process.
Step 2: Submit your application
Submit the Application for License to Operate A Child Care Facility form.
Step 3: Submit your supplementary documents
Along with your application, you will need to submit additional documentation:
A sketch or diagram of the facility showing the arrangement of the rooms, including the location of toilet and handwashing facilities, the kitchen, the office, and the doors
A sketch or diagram of the outdoor play area and placement of equipment
Written policies provided to parents that include:
Admission, care, and discharge of children
Narrative description of childcare practices and concepts
Discipline and guidance policies
A schedule of daily activities for each age group in your care
A sample weekly menu
An itemized list of available materials and equipment to be used by children
A staff sheet (for childcare centers and group childcare homes); listing of all household members and assistants (for family homes)
A written disaster and emergency plan
Written policies and procedures that establish lines of administrative authority
Sample forms used, other than those supplied by the department
Evidence of compliance with local or state, or both, sanitation requirements
Evidence of compliance with local building and zoning requirements, if applicable
Documentation to verify that the legal entity is in good standing if the childcare center or group childcare home is owned by a legal entity
Written policies and procedures which establish clear job responsibilities for the director or group home provider
Official verification of the center director or group childcare home provider’s education and experience
A written sleep-safe policy if the facility’s application includes children under 12 months in the requested age range
- A completed safety plan if a sex offender resides within one thousand feet of the family childcare home (for family homes)
Step 4: Schedule your licensing inspection
Upon receipt of your application, a licensing representative will perform an inspection on the premises of your facility. Failure to meet the licensing requirements within six months will result in your application being voided.
Step 5: Wait for your licensing representative to contact you
Once all licensing requirements have been met, your representative will grant your childcare license. It must be posted near the entrance of your facility where it can be seen by families and visitors.
As you wait for approval from the licensing office, this is the best time to ensure that you have everything lined up to start your daycare. Have you finished writing a business plan? Have you chosen a business name for your daycare? You’ll need to do this and come up with effective marketing strategies to keep your childcare program running smoothly.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Missouri
After you receive your initial daycare license, it is your responsibility to ensure that your facility is always in compliance with Missouri licensing requirements. This includes providing the licensing department access to your facility, premises, and records during inspections.
Missouri’s DESE requires that licensed childcare facilities submit annual documentation for license renewal. The process should begin at least 30 calendar days before the anniversary date printed on your license.
To start, submit an Annual Declaration for Licensed Facility form. This form is to express your intent to continue operating your childcare facility. It also serves as a confirmation of your agreed compliance with all daycare licensing rules. Childcare centers and group childcare homes are required to submit evidence of compliance with local building and zoning requirements, a current staff sheet, and a current list of available equipment.
For compliance with licensing requirements, you must have the following on file and available for review during inspections:
- Evidence of compliance with a fire and safety inspection conducted by the state fire marshal or their designated official
- Evidence of compliance with local, state, or both, sanitation requirements
- A Family Care Safety Registry check for all childcare staff members within 30 days prior to the anniversary date on your license
- Documentation to verify that the legal entity is in good standing, if your facility is owned by a legal entity
Childcare facility inspections are required during the initial licensing process and take place annually if your facility is applying for license renewal.
Having a system in place to help you keep track of rules and regulations is essential to maintaining compliance. A tool like brightwheel’s center management software simplifies your administrative tasks and streamlines your admissions process, record keeping, and reporting.
A daycare business is in your future
Obtaining a childcare license is one of the first steps in starting a quality childcare business. Each state’s rules and regulations ensure that children have a healthy, safe place to learn and develop. With careful planning and the resources provided by the state of Missouri, you’re one step closer to starting your daycare.