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Day-Care Owner

Many parents depend on day-care centers to look after their children. And that spells opportunity for those who open their own day-care facility.

Lynn White is the executive director of the National Child-Care Association. She says many studies indicate a shortage of licensed child-care in the U.S. But generally, the market matches demand.

"In general, the industry operates at around a 70 to 75 percent occupancy rate, indicating vacancies. Generally, high-quality centers have waiting lists," she says.

Alan Simpson is the communications coordinator for the National Association for the Education of Young Children. He says the demand for child care is fueled by a higher number of families with two parents working.

"Sixty-four percent of mothers with children under the age of six are now in the labor force, compared with 20 percent in 1960," he says.

There are lots of opportunities for day-care operators. But there's much more to it than opening a door and providing children with a safe, comfortable environment.

Potential operators must deal with licensing regulations, educational requirements, legal requirements and health and safety issues. Other issues are long working hours and low pay.

"I think licensing is a deterrent," says White. "When a prospective developer begins to unravel the intricacies of laws, local ordinances, building codes, health codes and licensing requirements, they sometimes decide it's just too hard."

Licensing requirements vary greatly between states. In some regions, even local government regulations must be followed.

Marci Young is the executive director for the U.S. Center for the Child-Care Workforce. She says there is a wide variety of licensing regulations for all types of child care in the United States.

"It really depends on where you are. It's done at the state level and varies substantially," she says.

Regulations may be in place concerning such details as physical layout of the facility, fencing, equipment, swimming pools, family pets, health and safety, nutrition, criminal records, parental access, training, bathroom and sleeping facilities, and discipline.

In Oklahoma, for example, reptiles such as crocodiles, alligators, poisonous snakes and lizards, pythons and boa constrictors may not be kept on the premises of a family day care. Fire and tornado drills must be held quarterly.

A license is required in Oklahoma for any care provided on a regular basis that includes children other than relatives. But in Oregon, a person can provide unlicensed regular care to up to three children, not including their own.

There's also a big discrepancy in the amount of specialized training required. In some states, a family day-care operator may need only a few specialized qualifications, such as CPR and first aid training.

Larger centers generally require an early childhood education certificate or some other post-secondary degree.

Once all the necessary requirements have been met, a day-care operator faces another set of challenges. These include long hours with no set breaks and having very little adult interaction throughout the day.

Other issues are communicating with parents, dealing with low pay, trying to take time off for personal reasons and receiving an erratic salary.

Wages are a concern for child-care providers all across North America.

"Expect low pay," says Young. "Typically a person, especially child care, is a business owner and a caregiver and their net income is very low."

Start-up costs for operating a day-care center vary greatly. They depend on the location, size and type of facility.

White estimates the start-up cost of owning a 9,500-square-foot facility licensed for 150 kids and servicing 225 full-time equivalent children could be as much as $1.5 million.

"The investment total of $1.5 million plus equates to $10,434 per licensed slot and $6,955 per student served. The profit margin of licensed centers ranges between four and 10 percent," she says.

But the cost can be minimal if you open a small family day care in your own home.

Despite the regulatory and financial drawbacks, operating a day care can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.


National Child-Care Association
Offers the latest information on legislation, grants and safety

Center for the Child-Care Workforce
Dedicated to upgrading wages, benefits, training opportunities and working conditions for those who work with young children

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