The first few years of a child’s life are critical to creating a strong developmental foundation of physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills. Children need them for academic success and the lives they’ll lead as adults. Child care provides children with the opportunity to develop these skills in a safe, healthy environment.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can start a daycare in South Carolina, what you need to apply for a childcare license, and how to remain compliant with licensing requirements.
Do I need a childcare license in South Carolina?
All South Carolina childcare programs are required to be licensed, registered, approved, or are legally exempt. The four types of child care, as defined by the state, are:
- Child care center: A center that is licensed for 13 or more children. It can be commercial, school-based, or faith-based.
- Group childcare home: A home-based facility occupied by an operator that cares for seven to 12 children including those who live in the residence and children related to the operator. Group childcare homes must be licensed.
- Family childcare home: A home-based facility occupied by an operator that cares for no more than six children including those who live in the residence and children related to the operator. These facilities may choose to be licensed, but they must be registered.
- Legally-exempt operations: A center-based childcare program open less than four hours a day and/or open on school holidays. Group childcare homes and family childcare homes are not able to be legally-exempt operations.
In South Carolina, childcare licenses are managed by the South Carolina Division of Early Care and Education at the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The requirements are determined by provider type. If you plan to open a daycare in South Carolina, you must be licensed if you plan to:
- Operate four or more hours a day
- Operate more than two days a week
- Care for children in your home and care for more than one family not related to you
Childcare licensing requirements in South Carolina
The South Carolina Division of Early Care and Education manages the childcare licensing requirements in the state. The key functions the office oversees are inspections, state and federal comprehensive background checks, investigations, and regulations.
A state advisory committee is responsible for reviewing the licensing requirements and regulations to consistently improve the quality of care children in South Carolina receive. Commercial and school-based childcare centers and group childcare homes are required to meet the licensing requirements in the state. The South Carolina Child Care Licensing Law regulates conditions in each facility to ensure they maintain minimum levels of protections and supervision for the children in their care.
The general requirements for all licensed and registered childcare facilities are as follows:
- Every applicant must complete an orientation program provided by the Division of Early Child Care and Education.
- Providers must submit their facility’s building plans with pictures and diagrams.
- Any caregiver in a licensed childcare center must have a high school diploma or general educational development diploma (GED) and at least six months of experience as a caregiver in a licensed childcare facility.
- State and federal background checks must be conducted on any person working within the facility.
- Facilities must pass a yearly unannounced inspection in addition to regularly scheduled inspections.
- Childcare programs must also pass health and fire safety inspections conducted by the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
- During hours of operation, childcare facilities are required to have at least one caregiver with a current certificate in basic first aid and child-infant CPR.
- When an unexpected staff vacancy occurs, the owner or operator of the childcare facility has to notify and acquire signed statements from parents and guardians to indicate that they have received notice that the program may provisionally employ a new staff member.
- Childcare facilities must provide proof that their grounds comply with county or municipal zoning ordinances.
- Birth to one year: One staff member for five children (1:5)
- One to two years: One staff member for six children (1:6)
- Two to three years: One staff member for eight children (1:8)
- Three to four years: One staff member for 12 children (1:12)
- Four to five years: One staff member for 17 children (1:17)
- Five to six years: One staff member for 20 children (1:20)
- Six to 12 years: One staff member for 23 children (1:23)
Childcare centers and group childcare homes
When it comes to their respective requirements, you’ll find that childcare centers and group childcare homes are indistinguishable. Combing through South Carolina’s licensing law, you’d find that “childcare centers” is almost always followed by “group childcare homes,” except where they’re defined.
South Carolina law defines a childcare center as any facility which regularly receives 13 or more children for childcare. Group childcare homes are defined as facilities within a residence that regularly provide child care for at least seven but no more than 12 children.
The requirements placed on childcare centers, group childcare homes, and family childcare homes are very similar; however, the requirements set for family childcare homes are slightly different. While the first two are required to have at least one caregiver with a current certificate in basic first aid and child-infant CPR on grounds during operation hours, the third doesn’t.
The most noticeable difference is that childcare centers and group childcare homes are required to be licensed while family childcare homes only require registration.
Family childcare homes
Family childcare homes are home-based facilities that are occupied by a provider in which child care is regularly provided to no more than six children. As opposed to childcare centers and group childcare homes, family childcare homes are required to be registered; however, they can elect to be licensed.
Before becoming a registered provider of a family childcare home, applicants must:
- Sign a statement that they have read the suggested standards developed by the department.
- Provide a signed statement by each child’s parent verifying that they have received a copy of the suggested standards for family childcare homes and the procedures for filing complaints.
- Complete and provide documents to the Department of Social Services of a minimum of two hours of annual training approved by the department.
The South Carolina Department of Social Services and the Division of Child Care Licensing and Regulatory Services have created the Child Care Licensing Law to protect children in childcare facilities and encourage the improvement of childcare programs. Use this information as you prepare to start a childcare center or open a preschool in your home. Because the standards for each childcare facility are different, use the SC Division of Early Child Care and Education resources to familiarize yourself with the licensing requirements for your specific program.
Childcare license application in South Carolina
Before you can start and operate a daycare center, there are several things you may need to cross off your checklist. Have you decided on the best preschool name? Have you finished writing your business plan? Boosting and maintaining enrollment will require you to brainstorm marketing strategies to keep your business running.
Above all else, you need to apply for a childcare license. The SC Division of Early Child Care and Education outlines the application process as follows:
Step 1: Attend orientation
Every applicant must attend the free orientation provided by the division. At orientation, you will receive a packet with all the forms needed for your application. This session is an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the resources in your area. To sign up for orientation, call your local licensing office or use this link to see upcoming orientations for all regions.
Step 2: Submit your building and architectural plans
Send pictures and diagrams of your facility to DSS Child Care Fire and Health Safety.
Step 3: Contact your zoning office for zoning approval
After you attend orientation, receive your application packet, and have building approval by the Chief Fire Marshal at Child Care Licensing, contact your local zoning office for approval.
Step 4: Send in your documents
Submit your application, zoning approval, and fire inspection request to your local Child Care Licensing Regional Office.
Step 5: Receive your licensing specialist assignment
After you submit your documentation, you will be assigned a licensing specialist. They will guide you in completing additional paperwork which you will submit upon completion.
Step 6: Pass a site inspection
Once your items have been approved, your licensing specialist will contact you for a visit. If your facility meets the licensing requirements, your case will be submitted for a provisional childcare license.
Step 7: Complete a full evaluation
After 45 days of operation, the licensing department will revisit your facility to conduct a full evaluation. If the visit is successful, your provisional license will be upgraded to a regular childcare license.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in South Carolina
Once you receive a daycare license in South Carolina, you’ll need to stay in compliance to keep your license active. To stay compliant, you need to adhere to the licensing requirements outlined by the South Carolina Child Care Licensing Law and renew your license before it expires.
The Division of Early Care and Education conducts scheduled inspections throughout the year. Within a year, they are also required to make one unannounced inspection. During these visits, they will ensure that your childcare facility continues to maintain the minimum licensing requirements for the state.
Compliance also requires that your daycare license is active. Regular licenses are issued for two years. You can apply for renewal to grant an extension to your license for an additional two-year period. For renewal, your facility will have to undergo an investigation to verify that you comply with licensing laws.
A tool like brightwheel’s center management software can help you simplify administrative tasks and streamline your admissions process, record keeping and reporting requirements.
Start a daycare in South Carolina
If you plan to open a daycare business that operates four or more hours a day, operates more than two days a week, provides home-based care for children, and cares for more than one unrelated family, you will need to get a daycare license in South Carolina. To ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the children in your care, the Department of Social Services has set strict, important requirements for childcare facilities. With this guide and the resources provided by the licensing division, you have the tools and resources to achieve your goal of starting a daycare business.