Undoubtedly, deciding when and where to enroll your child in a child care program is a challenge that often leaves parents or caretakers questioning or worrying about the decisions or choices they have to make.
When you have an infant, it’s usually “Where can I trust to leave my baby?” As the child grows, it’s “Should I enroll my child in preschool/PA Pre-K Counts or Head Start?” Once the child enters kindergarten, it’s “Do I need an after-school child care program or for school breaks?” You will eventually wonder, “What age can my child be home alone after school?” All of these choices present families with unique challenges that are not only different from family to family but can also vary from child to child within a family. Primarily, the household budget drives many of these choices. For those families that need or want to access some type of care for their child outside of the home you should know what types of programs are available for your child.
In Pennsylvania, child care programs can choose to be licensed by the Department of Human Services or the Department of Education depending upon the ages of children they serve and the length of the day they operate. These programs can be located in a place of worship, a school building, a standalone property or in someone’s private residence. There are different rules for programs depending on the type of license they have, such as staff ratios or health and safety requirements. Some programs may not be licensed at all or some may be registered with the Department of Education as a non-public or non-licensed school. These may be programs that operate for a limited number of hours during a calendar year or for a limited time, such as an after-school or a summer only nature or art camp. Anyone who is watching more than three children, other than their own children, in their own home must be licensed by the Department of Human Services.
The Department of Human Services provides a Certificate of Compliance for programs that serve children that are 6 weeks of age to 13 years of age while the Department Education offers a license for private nursery schools and private kindergartens for programs that serve children between the ages of 3-5.
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Child Care Information Services can provide resources to help you decide which type of program is best for your family. You can also visit www.findchildcare.pa.gov for programs such as child care, Head Start, Early Head Start, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, Early Intervention, Home Visiting, private academic schools and school district operated prekindergarten. The website also has links to inspection reports and current Keystone STARS quality ratings.
Nichol Sheridan is the program director of Child Care Information Services of Centre & Clinton counties.