Little Actions. Big Impact!

All the tools you need to help your child learn and grow

from PA Promise in partnership with OCDEL

How early learning programs are regulated in Pennsylvania

dad with daughter

You want your child to be safe and secure when you enroll them in a daycare, child care or early learning program. Checking on who inspects the program is a good start.

Pennsylvania child care, daycare and early learning programs can be regulated by the state or the federal government. It can be a little confusing – if you get confused, ask the program, “Who regulates you?” Ask them about their last inspection, or if they have any complaints or violations. The information below should get you started.

What’s in a name? Programs serving young children may use a number of different names to describe themselves, such as day care, child care, child development center, early learning program, Head Start, preschool, or nursery school.

The name doesn’t always tell you how they are regulated or the level of quality, so be sure to ask about their regulations and how they provide quality services to children.

Daycare or Child Care Programs
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) regulates daycare and child care programs (family homes, group homes and child care centers) in Pennsylvania to make sure they meet minimum health and safety standards. The regulations cover areas like:

  • Safety standards for the building and classrooms;
  • Staff requirements, such as age, education level;
  • Staff to child ratios – how many staff people must be in a classroom with a certain number of children at all times (the younger the children, the more staff per classroom);
  • Classroom and playground equipment;
  • Supervision of children;
  • Nutrition and adult and child health;
  • Admissions procedures; and
  • Compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

There are three types of child care programs regulated by DHS:

Family Home

  • One caregiver who serves between four and six children unrelated to the caregiver
  • State certification required, based on health and safety
  • Mandatory participation in Keystone STARS
  • Other types of accreditation at discretion of the program
  • They must follow regulations for family child care homes.

Child Care Center

  • Serves seven or more children unrelated to the child care operator
  • State certification required, based on health and safety
  • Mandatory participation in Keystone STARS
  • Other types of accreditation at discretion of the program
  • They must meet regulations for child care centers

Group Home

  • Serves between seven and 12 children unrelated to the child care operator
  • State certification required, based on health and safety
  • Mandatory participation in Keystone STARS
  • Other types of accreditation at discretion of the program
  • They must follow regulations for group homes.

Programs are required to post their certificate of compliance, so if you don’t see it, ask about it.

 

To find out if a child care program has had any violations or complaints or to view the results of their inspections:

  • Visit the www.findchildcare.pa.gov, and search by address or program name, and age of your child. Once a listing of results appears, click on the name of the program get more information, including their certification (a document issued to a legal entity permitting it to operate) and any violations.
  • Call your local Early Learning Resouce Center.

 

Other early learning programs

  • Head Start programs follow federal regulations and receive a comprehensive review every three years. Some Head Start programs may also be DHS–certified as child care programs.
  • Some preschools are licensed as private licensed academic nursery schools by the Department of Education (PDE). They have to meet regulations regarding school building and classroom space, staff requirements, instructional equipment and course of study.
  • Programs that offer Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts can either be school districts, Keystone STAR 3 or 4 child care programs, Head Start programs, or private licensed nursery schools. They follow the regulations for their programs but additional ones related to teacher qualifications, curriculum, child observation and staff:child ratios to meet the PA Pre-K Counts guidelines.

 

How does Keystone STARS fit in?
Keystone STARS is a program for child care and Head Start programs interested in improving quality. Keystone STARS builds upon the child care regulations. 

Concerned about your child’s development?

Call Pennsylvania’s CONNECT Helpline at 1-800-692-7288 for information about your child’s development and connecting to Early Intervention services in Pennsylvania.

Call Child Care Works Helpline at 1-877-4-PA-KIDS (1-877-472-5437) for information about finding, paying for and other concerns related to child care.

Learn more about these Helplines