Wisconsin child care laws: What parents need to know

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- The last day of school brings joy and excitement for students. But for working parents it may be a headache when it comes to finding child care.

There are three types care providers: certified, licensed and unregulated. Micki Krueger is the assistant director at Childcaring. It’s a local child care resource and referral agency that assists families and providers in Adams, Clark, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marquette, Portage, Taylor, Waushara, and Wood counties.

“We help families locate child care to meet their needs. We serve as a resource to potential existing childcare providers. And we work with communities to solve early childhood issues and increase the quality and affordable childcare,” Krueger explained.

She said certified and licensed care is typically referred to as regulated care, but she said there are differences.

“Licensed child care is licensed by the state of Wisconsin through the Department of Children and Families. You can have a group childcare center-- which typically they're licensed for nine or more children. And children are usually grouped together by ages. You can also have a licensed family childcare program where the care is going to typically take place in the child care provider’s home. Now, a certified provider is going to be certified by the certifying agency which is sometimes looks different in each county,” Krueger explain.

She say in Marathon County, providers are certified by social services.

Krueger explained those child care providers care for six or fewer children. However, only three can be under the age of 7. In Marathon County, to become certified, you must contact the Department of Social Services at (715) 261-7577. Staff will assist you with the certification process and answer any questions you may have. In Wood County, people wishing to become certified can contact Wood County Human Services Community Resources Division at (715) 421-8669.

It is legal to provide child care without a certification or license. People can care for three children unrelated to them under state law. A fourth child would require certification or licensing.

Krueger said the benefits of regulated care mean the provider has had training and education in areas like shaken baby syndrome risk reduction and sudden infant death syndrome. In Wood County, if the provider has a well, they must have proof of safe drinking water. They must also have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. And if there are pets in the home, they must be vaccinated for rabies.

For baby sitters there are also benefits to becoming regulated.

“Regulated child care programs also can receive some tax benefits. And they also will qualify for some programs like the food program where they can get reimbursed for meals and snacks that they serve to children,” Krueger said.

Another benefit to finding a regulated provider is a contract or policy that is in place for care.

“If there's a reason why either one of them [the parent or the provider] needs to, you know, to end the contract--- stop providing care or stop receiving care, there is some different policies that they're asking to follow by. Maybe it's giving a written two weeks notice,” Krueger explained.

She said quality child care opportunities make a huge difference in a child’s life. She says it’s a big decision for parents. "I hope they plan ahead and investigate all of their options.”

Krueger adds for parents beginning to look for child care, they will be surprised to find out how difficult it is.

“It is extremely difficult, and we're trying to recruit child care providers right now. It definitely does take a special person to provide child care. It is a hard job. But if they have the caring personality and a good business sense, someone can make, you know, a really good profession, out of caring for children. It definitely is a profession.”

Krueger said a session will be held July 25 from 6-8 p.m. at Asprius hospital in Antigo for people interested in becoming regulated.

“Communities need quality child care to survive – programs need to provide it, parents need to demand it, and businesses/employers need to support it. Without quality child care programs and providers, parents can’t work and businesses can suffer."

The program is free to attend, but registration is required. To register, call 1-800-628-8534.

“If someone is interested in providing child care, they can attend this info session and ask all of these questions: What type of training do I need? How many children can I legally care for? What are the benefits to becoming regulated? What should I charge families? We have all of this information covered in these info sessions that are totally free,” Krueger shared.

She explained that why it’s always been tough to find child care, right now there is a decrease of child care programs in Wisconsin. She said they are also seeing less people enter the early childhood field, partially due to low wages and minimal benefits. So, the openings at centers fill quickly.

So, without many options how do you know you’re choosing the best option for your child?

“Parents should definitely ask to see a child care program’s certificate or license. And that information should all be provided there. All regulated child care providers are going to receive inspections from the regulatory agency,” she said.

Many parents may already be aware of YoungStar. It’s Wisconsin's child care quality rating website. But Krueger explains YoungStar is a voluntary program.

“However, if they're serving children that are receiving the child care assistance they need they do need to participate,” Krueger added.

Click here to find a regulated child care provider in central Wisconsin.

Childcaring also provides information about group child care costs in the counties it serves. Care for children under 1 year—the most expensive age group, varies from $156-$225 per week depending on the county.

Childcaring.org has numerous resources for families including questions to ask a provider. Click here for parent resources.

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