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How to Start a Daycare in Missouri

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At, our articles are penned by a dynamic team of seasoned experts who've spent years in the trenches with kids and daycare center owners. Imagine a mix of laughter, learning, and aha moments distilled into every article! From playful tips for early childhood education to navigating the wild ride of daycare provider life, we're your go-to source for reliable info with a side of fun.

Starting a daycare in Missouri requires careful planning and adherence to state regulations.

  • First, conduct thorough research on the requirements set forth by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) for licensing and operation.
  • Develop a comprehensive business plan outlining your daycare’s mission, services offered, target market, and financial projections.
  • Secure suitable premises that comply with zoning regulations and safety standards, ensuring adequate space for play areas, restrooms, and administrative functions. Obtain the necessary licenses and permits from local and state authorities, including background checks for staff and emergency preparedness protocols.
  • Consider investing in liability insurance to protect your business. Create a stimulating and nurturing environment for children by designing age-appropriate activities, hiring qualified and compassionate staff, and implementing health and safety protocols.
  • Finally, market your daycare through local advertising, a listing, community outreach, and online platforms to attract families in need of childcare services while maintaining compliance with state regulations.

Do I need a childcare license in Missouri?

Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) serves as the overseeing body for childcare within the state, ensuring the well-being, safety, and development of dependent children in out-of-home childcare settings. This is achieved through adherence to childcare licensing requirements aimed at averting injury, risk, or harm. To initiate a childcare center, group childcare home, or family childcare home, obtaining a state license is mandatory. These programs are categorized as follows:
  • Childcare center: Operating in a location separate from the provider’s permanent residence, where child care is provided during any part of the day.
  • Group childcare home: Operating in a location separate from the provider’s permanent residence, accommodating up to 20 children during any part of the day.
  • Family childcare home: Operated by a licensed childcare home provider, accommodating up to 10 children during any part of the day.
Daycare in Missouri Certain facilities are exempt from the requirement to obtain a childcare license. Individuals seeking exemption can submit a Program Evaluation Questionnaire (PEQ) to the DESE for assessment. Per the Missouri Public Health and Welfare laws, examples of childcare operators or facilities eligible for exemption 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
Despite exemptions, programs may still need to adhere to specific childcare laws and regulations. For further details on childcare facilities exempt from licensing in Missouri, one can refer to DESE resources concerning licensing rules and laws. Depending on the specific type of licensing exemption a program receives, it may still need to adhere to particular childcare laws and regulations. For further details regarding which childcare facilities are exempt from licensing in Missouri, individuals can refer to the resources provided by the DESE on licensing rules and regulations.

Childcare licensing requirements in Missouri

Licensed childcare centers, group childcare homes, and family childcare homes must adhere to the licensing regulations established by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Homes and Child Care Centers, as well as the Licensing Rules for Family Child Care Homes, govern facility standards to ensure the well-being and safety of children under their care.

Group childcare homes and childcare centers

Provider requirements

In Missouri, the educational and experiential prerequisites vary according to the licensed capacity. Providers of group childcare homes must meet the criteria applicable to capacities of up to 20 children, while center directors are mandated to fulfill at least one of the following educational qualifications: For capacities of up to 20 children:
  • Completion of 30 college semester hours, with six hours focused on child-related courses.
  • Alternatively, possessing 12 months of relevant experience along with six college semester hours in child-related courses, coupled with either a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Youth Development Credential (YDC).
For capacities ranging from 21 to 60 children:
  • Completion of 60 college semester hours, including 12 hours in child-related courses.
  • Alternatively, having 24 months of experience alongside 12 college semester hours in child-related courses.
For capacities ranging from 61 to 99 children:
  • Attainment of 90 college semester hours, with 18 hours dedicated to child-related courses.
  • Alternatively, possessing 36 months of experience combined with 18 college semester hours in child-related courses.
For capacities of 100 or more children:
  • Achievement of 120 college semester hours, with 24 hours allocated to child-related courses (where six hours may pertain to business or management courses).
  • Alternatively, having four years of experience along with 24 college semester hours in child-related courses (where six hours may include business or management courses).

Ratio requirements

In group childcare homes and childcare centers in Missouri, specific staff-to-child ratios are mandated for various age groups:
  • Birth through two years: For mixed-age groups from birth through two years old, a ratio of one adult to four children (1:4) must be maintained, with a maximum of eight children.
  • Two years old: Groups consisting solely of two-year-olds must have a ratio of one adult to eight children (1:8), with a maximum of 16 children per group.
  • Three- to four-years old: Groups of three- and four-year-olds require a ratio of one adult to 10 children (1:10).
  • Five years old and older: Groups comprising children aged five and older necessitate a ratio of one adult to every 16 children (1:16).
  • Mixed-age groups of two-year-olds and older: These groups should maintain a ratio of one adult to 10 children (1:10), with a maximum of four two-year-olds. If there are more than four two-year-olds, the ratio should be one adult to eight children (1:8).
Additionally, special considerations are included in the staff-to-child ratios for Missouri group childcare homes and centers:
  • If a center has more than 50 children in attendance, the center director or individual in charge should not be counted in the staff-to-child ratios, except during naptime or as an emergency substitute.
  • During lunch or dinner time, if a center has over 30 children present, additional staff must be provided for meal preparation, serving, and clean-up. These staff members should not be included in the staff-to-child ratios during this period.
  • Individuals employed for clerical, housekeeping, cleaning, and maintenance duties are not to be included in the staff-to-child ratios while performing these tasks.

Family childcare homes

Provider requirements

Family childcare homes have specific requirements for providers, as follows:
  • Must be at least 18 years old.
  • Required to complete at least 12 clock hours of department-approved childcare-related training annually.
  • Must be knowledgeable about child abuse and neglect laws for reporting purposes.
  • Documentation of age-appropriate first aid and CPR training is mandatory.
  • Completion of sleep-safe training according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe sleep recommendations.
  • Must maintain good physical and emotional health and have a medical examination report on file.
Daycare in Missouri

Ratio requirements

Family childcare homes are limited to caring for a maximum of 10 children, with specific ratio requirements to be maintained consistently:
  • One caregiver may supervise up to four children (1:4), with a maximum of four children under age two.
  • For five to six children, one caregiver is required (1:5-6), with a maximum of three children under age two.
  • In cases where seven to 10 children are present, one caregiver should attend (1:7-10), with a maximum of two children under age two.
  • Alternatively, when caring for up to eight children, two caregivers are needed (2:8), with a maximum of eight children under age two.
  • If there are up to 10 children, two caregivers should be present (2:10), with a maximum of four children under age two.
The licensing requirements established by DESE are comprehensive, ensuring the provision of quality childcare in Missouri. For more detailed information on licensing criteria, individuals are encouraged to 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: Attend 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: File your application Complete and submit the Application for License to Operate A Child Care Facility form. Step 3: Provide additional documents Alongside your application, you must submit supplementary 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:
    • Program goals
    • 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: Arrange your licensing inspection Upon submission of your application, a licensing inspector will conduct an evaluation of your facility. Failure to meet the licensing criteria within six months will result in the nullification of your application. Step 5: Await communication from your licensing representative Upon fulfillment of all licensing prerequisites, your designated representative will issue your childcare license. It must be prominently displayed near the entrance of your facility for families and visitors to view. While awaiting approval from the licensing authority, it is advisable to ensure all necessary preparations are in place to commence your daycare operation. Have you finalized your business plan? Have you selected a suitable name for your daycare? These tasks, along with devising effective marketing strategies, are essential for the seamless operation of your childcare program.

How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Missouri

Ensuring ongoing compliance with your daycare license in Missouri is essential once you’ve obtained it. It becomes your responsibility to maintain adherence to the state’s licensing regulations, which includes granting the licensing department access to your facility, premises, and records during inspections. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) mandates that licensed childcare facilities submit annual documentation for license renewal. This process should be initiated at least 30 calendar days before the anniversary date printed on your license. To begin, you’ll need to submit an Annual Declaration for Licensed Facility form. This form serves as both an expression of your intent to continue operating your childcare facility and a confirmation of your commitment to comply with all daycare licensing rules. Childcare centers and group childcare homes are obligated to provide evidence of compliance with local building and zoning requirements, along with a current staff roster and an up-to-date inventory of available equipment. Daycare in Missouri To ensure compliance with licensing requirements, it is imperative to maintain the following documentation on file and readily available for review during inspections:
  • Verification of compliance with a fire and safety inspection conducted by the state fire marshal or their designated official.
  • Verification of compliance with local, state, or both, sanitation requirements.
  • Family Care Safety Registry checks for all childcare staff members conducted within 30 days prior to the anniversary date on your license.
  • Documentation confirming the good standing of the legal entity, if your facility is owned by a legal entity.
Childcare facility inspections are mandatory during the initial licensing process and occur annually for facilities seeking license renewal. Establishing an efficient system to monitor rules and regulations is vital for sustaining compliance.

A daycare business is in your future

Securing a childcare license stands as an initial milestone in launching a reputable childcare venture. The regulations set forth by each state aim to guarantee children access to a nurturing, secure environment conducive to learning and growth. Through meticulous preparation and leveraging the support offered by the state of Missouri, you edge closer towards the realization of your daycare endeavor. To best market your daycare and utilize coming tools such as all-in-one waitlist management, payment processing, and single scan solutions for parent updates, sign up at

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