Early childhood education has many lasting and positive benefits for children. It helps them learn and build skills that lay the foundation for their continued success in school and later in life. At the core of early childhood education are the providers—the people who ensure that their programs promote the health, safety, and welfare of the children in their care.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about starting a daycare and becoming a childcare provider in Nebraska including which facilities need a license, how to get a childcare license, and how to stay compliant with licensing requirements.
Do I need a childcare license in Nebraska?
If you plan to start a daycare in Nebraska, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) requires that childcare providers get a license to provide care for four or more children from different families. There are five types of licenses offered for child care in Nebraska:
- Family child care home I: A childcare program in the provider’s residence that serves at least four, but not more than eight children. The provider may be approved to serve up to two additional school-age children during non-school hours if no more than two of the other children in their care are under 18 months old.
- Family child care home II: A childcare program in the provider’s residence or another location that is licensed to serve at least four, but not more than 12 children.
- Child care center: A childcare program that is licensed to provide child care for 13 or more children.
- Preschool: A partial-day, early childhood program for children three and older that provides primarily education services.
- School-age-only (SAO) center: A childcare program for 13 or more children who attend kindergarten or above. The program may be located in the provider’s residence or another location.
Licensing is mandatory for the above programs; however, there are several childcare providers and services that the DHHS has made exempt from licensure. The following programs are exempt from licensing but may choose to become licensed:
- Any person who provides child care:
- On an irregular, informal basis with no established pattern of occurrence
- Without cost to the parents and receives no compensation
- To three or fewer children at any time
- Care that is provided only to children 13 years and older
- Care that is provided for less than two hours per week (on average)
- Recreation camps—a facility, center, or program operated by a political or governmental subdivision
- Classes or services provided by a religious organization other than child care, a preschool, or nursery school
- A preschool program conducted in an approved school
- Programs operated and contracted by a public school district
- Services that are provided to school-age children only during the summer and extended breaks during the school year
- Foster care
Childcare licensing requirements in Nebraska
Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services manages the childcare licensing requirements in the state. Whether you are starting a childcare program in a commercial facility or starting a preschool at home, it’s important to understand all requirements and regulations. The regulations that govern the licensing of childcare programs in Nebraska—Family Child Care Home I, Family Child Care Home II, Child Care Centers. Preschools, and School-Age-Only Centers—are created by five acts:
- Child Care Licensing Act: Requires the DHHS to develop regulations establishing standards for the physical well-being, safety, and protection of children in licensed programs. The act provides statewide standards for childcare providers and gives the department the authority to enforce licensing standards.
- Child Protection Act: Authorizes the DHHS to use information in the state child abuse/neglect central register for purposes of licensing providers of childcare programs.
- Clean Indoor Air Act: Addresses smoking in licensed childcare programs.
- Quality Child Care Act: Requires the DHHS to develop regulations for mandatory training requirements for childcare providers so they can meet the health, safety, and developmental needs of the children in their care.
- Sex Offender Registration Act: Authorizes the disclosure of information to providers to conduct confidential background checks for employment.
The licensing requirements vary based on the childcare program; however, the DHHS has categorized all of its children’s services licensing into licensing requirements and procedures, general requirements, inspections and complaint investigations, standards of operation and care, physical plant standards, and denial and disciplinary actions.
The general requirements for all licensed childcare facilities are as follows:
- Every applicant must submit a sketch, diagram, or blueprint of the facility, showing the dimensions, arrangement of rooms to be used by the children, and outdoor play area.
- All licensees must complete training in the seven domains of Nebraska’s Early Childhood Learning Guidelines:
- Approaches to learning
- Creative arts
- Health and physical development
- Language and literacy development
- Social and emotional development
- Background checks must be conducted on any person working in the facility.
- Providers must pay initial and annual licensing fees.
- Provisional and yearly license fee (capacity less than 30): $25
- Provisional and yearly license fee (capacity 30 or more): $50
- Childcare facilities must pass a yearly, unannounced inspection.
- Childcare programs must pass fire, sanitation, and building code inspections.
- Every licensee must be at least 19 years old.
- The following staff-to-child ratio must be maintained whenever children are in care:
- Infants: One adult for one child (1:1)
- Toddlers : One adult for two children (1:2)
- Preschoolers: One adult for four children (1:4)
- School-age: One adult for six children (1:6)
While family childcare homes don’t have educational requirements, a director of a childcare center, preschool, or school-age-only center must meet one of the following requirements:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in early childhood education, education, or child/youth development
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with at least six credit hours in early childhood education, education, or child/youth development
- Have an associate’s degree from an accredited college or university in early childhood education, education, or child/youth development
- Have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential
- Have a high school diploma or GED and 3,000 clock hours of verifiable experience in organized group activities for children (from birth to 13 years old) as indicated by a positive reference from a former employer or supervisor and:
- Have successfully completed six credit hours or 36 clock hours of department-approved training in administration, early childhood education, education, or child/youth development
- A written, DHHS-approved plan to acquire at least six credit hours or 36 clock hours of approved training in a period that doesn’t exceed 12 months
Family child care home I and II
A family child care home I is a home-based facility that provides care for four to eight children. It shares many similarities, and few differences, with family child care home II—child care provided in the licensee’s home, or another location, for four to 12 children. In fact, the only obvious difference between the licensing requirements for both programs is the number of children they serve.
While the other programs have similar training requirements, the family childcare home programs both require that the applicant complete a two-hour orientation and CPR and first aid training. Childcare centers, preschools, and school-age-only centers require these trainings as a general rule for staff in their facilities; however, the requirement is not enforced on the licensee.
Childcare centers and preschools
Licensed childcare centers provide care to 13 or more children. Alternatively, Nebraska defines preschools as partial-day primarily education programs provided to 3-year-olds and older where children do not nap and are not served a meal. The regulations for these two programs are very similar, with some differences.
First, preschools are defined as partial-day programs, while childcare centers offer full-day care. Second, preschools don’t offer napping or sleeping arrangements for children. Licensing requirements for childcare centers state that programs must include nap and rest periods.
Lastly, children are served meals at childcare centers but not at preschools. While both programs require a written description of services and a sample daily schedule, childcare center providers must also submit a sample menu of weekly snacks and meals during the application process. Similar to family childcare homes, childcare centers must ensure that the facility offers at least the following number of meals and snacks based on how long children are present:
- 2 ½ to 4 hours: One snack
- 4 to 8 hours: One snack and one meal
- 8 to 10 hours: Two snacks and one meal
- 10 or more hours: Two snacks and two meals
School-age-only (SAO) centers are very similar to childcare centers and preschools. What truly sets them apart is the age range. While childcare centers and preschools are for children up to 5 years old, SAO centers are reserved for children in kindergarten and above. SAO centers can offer naps to their children; however, it is not required. They are also bound to the same meal and snack requirements as childcare centers.
Childcare license application in Nebraska
Before you can start a daycare in Nebraska, there are several things you need to do. You’ll need to develop a business plan, choose a name for your childcare program, and determine the best marketing strategies to boost enrollment. Most importantly, you’ll need to apply for a childcare license and be approved. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services outlines the application process as follows:
Step 1: Review regulations and complete orientation and training
Before submitting your application, you must review all the regulations for your particular program and complete the following:
- Family Child Care Home Orientation (for Family Child Care Home I and II programs)
- Prepare to Care Health and Safety Training (for Family Child Care Home I and II programs)
- Safe with You Training (for all licensed childcare providers)
Step 2: Get zoning approval
Ensure that the location of your program meets the appropriate zoning codes. You will need to get this document from the local city planning department or county office.
Step 3: Fill out your application
Your provisional license (for the first year of licensure) requires:
- Program information: Type of license, name of childcare program, name of the primary provider, requested license capacity, the age range of children to be served by the program, hours of operation, days of operation, required information on all persons living in the household, required information on all persons designated as staff, substitutes, and volunteers, and zoning approval
- Ownership information and requirements: Business ownership, business ownership name, authorized agent(s), and federal ID number
- Certification and signature of owners
- Required additional documentation: Criminal history record check, health information report, photocopies of CPR and first aid certification cards/certificates, proof of liability insurance, and building plans and diagrams
Step 4: Submit your application
The DHHS offers two options for submitting your applications:
- Option 1: The completed application and the required additional documentation may be submitted to the DHHS only by scanning and emailing the documents to: DHHS.ChildCareLicensing@nebraska.gov
- Option 2: The completed application, required additional documentation, and fee may be mailed to:
- For Cass, Douglas, Sarpy & Washington counties: DHHS/Division of Public Health, Office of Children’s Services Licensing, 1313 Farnam Street, 3rd Floor, Omaha, NE 68102
- All other counties: DHHS/Division of Public Health, Office of Children’s Services Licensing, P.O. Box 94986, Lincoln, NE 68509
Whether you submit your application using option one or two, your licensing fee must be mailed via U.S. mail using the applicable address above. For option one, it must be mailed separately along with a copy of the front page of your application. For option two, the licensing fee should be mailed with your application.
Step 5: Wait for your inspections
Once all required forms are received and approved, the Children’s Services Licensing Staff will send the fire and health referrals to applicable inspectors. A Child Care Inspection Specialist (CCIS) will be assigned to your case and will contact you within 30 days to schedule your provisional inspection.
Step 6: Get your license
If the inspection specialist finds you in compliance with the childcare licensing regulations, you will be issued a provisional license. You will be notified by phone or email of the effective date.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Nebraska
Once a childcare program has completed a provisional license year, the provider must apply for a non-expiring operating license. Ninety days before the expiration of a provisional license, the DHHS will send a notice.
If a provisional licensee doesn’t submit a complete application for an operating license on or before the expiration date, the provisional license expires. If the licensee applies more than 90 days after expiration, the DHHS will process the application as a provisional license. If the licensee submits a complete application within 90 days after expiration and is in compliance with regulations, the department will issue an operating license.
With a tool like brightwheel’s center management feature you can easily manage your record keeping, reporting, and admissions in one central location. This software gives you easy access to staff records including training hours and room assignments, so your program can remain in compliance.
To qualify for a standard license, the facility must demonstrate satisfactory compliance through inspections. There are six types of inspections that the DHHS may conduct to determine compliance:
- Sixty-day inspection: Reserved for family childcare homes, the department will conduct an unannounced inspection within 60 days of issuing a provisional, operating, or amended FCCH-I or FCCH-II license.
- Initial licensure inspection: Within 30 days of receiving a completed application for a provisional license, the DHHS will conduct an on-site inspection of childcare centers, preschools, and school-age-only centers.
- Provisional-to-operating license inspection: Within 30 days of receiving a completed application for an operating license, an unannounced on-site inspection will be conducted.
- Annual and semi-annual license inspections: To determine compliance with licensing regulations, unannounced inspections will be conducted:
- A minimum of once each year for facilities licensed to care for 29 or fewer children
- A minimum of twice each year for facilities licensed to care for 30 or more children
- Follow-up inspections: The DHHS may conduct follow-up inspections to determine if a licensee has corrected all violations. These inspections happen no later than 60 days after the original inspection.
- Monitoring inspections: Unannounced monitoring inspections may be conducted to determine compliance with regulations and the conditions of any negative action or discipline.
Operating licenses don’t expire. Barring any special circumstances like a change of ownership or cease of operation, as long as you remember to pay the annual license fee, follow the licensing rules for your facility, and pass your inspections, you can keep your daycare business running.
You’re ready to open a daycare
Meeting all of the state requirements and obtaining the proper childcare license is one of the first steps in operating your childcare business. With careful planning, training, and utilizing all of the state resources provided, your program can provide children and families high-quality child care.