Operating a Child Care Center: Program Structure

A successful child care center depends on a number of factors. Putting practices and resources into place to strengthen your program structure is one way to increase your chances of success. The topics below can help you think about how to do this in your program.

  • QRIS and National Accreditation

    Some states have a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). Child care programs earn ratings when they meet certain quality standards. Programs earn higher ratings as they meet more quality standards. In some states, QRIS is mandatory for licensed child care providers or for programs that receive state subsidies. Learn more about your state’s QRIS by clicking on the State by State Resource Map. Your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency also can help you connect to your state’s QRIS.

    Some child care programs reach higher standards by becoming accredited by a national accrediting body. Achieving accreditation is a voluntary process for child care providers. Programs that choose to become accredited have to show they meet requirements above and beyond state licensing requirements. The main accrediting body for licensed child care centers is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Some other national organizations that accredit centers include the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA), the National Accreditation Commission (NAC), and Cognia.

    QRIS and National Accreditation
  • Health and Nutrition Practices

    There are a number of things you can do to help children receive healthy and nutritious food throughout the day and instill quality health practices in your child care program. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a voluntary program that helps qualified child care providers serve healthy and nutritious meals and snacks for children in their care. CACFP reimburses child care providers for a portion of the costs for eligible meals and snacks served, depending on the income status of the families.

    In addition to CACFP, there are other health and nutrition practices that you will want to implement. Practices such as record keeping, special infant and toddler feeding practices, proper handwashing, diapering and toileting procedures are all important elements of a high-quality program. Many of these practices may be required by your state licensing agency.

    Pandemic Considerations: Enhanced health and safety measures are necessary during the pandemic in order to protect children and staff. These measures should cover cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces and materials, drop-off and pick-up procedures, daily health screenings and temperature checks, meal time changes, use of PPE when necessary, social distancing, and other topics.

    The CDC has shared recommendations for enhanced health and safety procedures that child care programs should take during the pandemic. Visit Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open for more information.

    Additionally, your state may have guidance on recommendations or requirements for child care programs during this time. Visit our State by State Resource Map and click on your state for information about child care and COVID-19.

    Health and Nutrition
  • Supervision and Safety Practices

    Supervision and safety practices are some of the most important features of your program. Not only do these practices keep children safe, but it also helps you provide higher quality care. Many of these practices may be required by your state licensing agency. When programs are properly staffed and when staff actively supervise children at all times, the more likely staff are able to engage in warm and responsive interactions with children.

    Pandemic Consideration: During the pandemic, additional supervision and safety measures should be put into place to protect children and staff. These may include:

    • smaller group sizes, to allow for social distancing when possible
    • enhanced hand-washing, cleaning, and sanitizing procedures
    • staff training on recognizing symptoms of COVID-19 and procedures for children who begin displaying signs of a respiratory illness
    • meal time changes, such as individually plated meals and socially distanced eating areas
    • nap time changes, such as spacing mats, cribs, or cots 6 feet apart when possible and placing children head-to-toe for naps
    Safety and Supervision
  • Staffing Practices

    Not only is it important to have an adequate number of staff members for your program, but it also is important to have staff that has an early education background and experience working with young children. Use the resource below to help you think about what type of training and education you and your staff may need to operate a high-quality child care program. Keep in mind that some of these practices may be required by your state licensing agency.

    Staff Qualifications
  • Child Care Policies and Procedures

    Your child care policies and procedures will help you communicate your expectations to both your parents and staff. These policies will help you when questions arise. Some of these policies and procedures may be required by your state licensing agency.

    Pandemic Consideration: Ensure that your policies and procedures reflect the changes you’ll need to make to your program due to COVID-19. These may include a “no visitors” policy for the duration of the pandemic, information about drop-off and pick-up changes, and what parents can expect if their child begins to exhibit symptoms of a respiratory illness while in child care. Also be sure to include your fee and payment policies in case of temporary closure and the steps you will take if a child or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 or if there is an outbreak in the community.

    CCAoA’s Grab, Adapt, and Go Resources may be helpful when determining policies for these and other scenarios for the pandemic.

    Policies and Procedures

For the best results, be sure to download and save the resources provided above. Doing so will allow you to complete the forms from your computer or mobile device.

These resources and more are also available in our Child Care Center Resources E-Book.

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