Florida Child Care Facility License Defense

Have you been notified of a complaint filed against your child care facility or daycare home licensed with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)? Are you concerned about what effects the complaint will have on your reputation and future livelihood as a qualified child care provider? A complaint filed against any child care facility or daycare home, no matter how unjustified it may be, can have detrimental consequences, including civil fines, a restriction of services, harm to your professional reputation, and possible criminal charges.

No matter if the complaint is unwarranted, it’s imperative for the sake of your future reputation and career that you take effective steps to resolve the complaint immediately. After being notified of a complaint filed against your child care facility, contact an accomplished administrative attorney as soon as possible to protect your future livelihood as a reputable Florida child care facility.

What Are the Legal Standards for Child Care Facilities in Florida?

Child care facilities have an enormous responsibility to care for and supervise children in a safe and nurturing environment. All are required to abide by state and federal laws that cover many topics, from employment regulations to the facility’s cleanliness.

Florida’s child care law provides legal standards that each facility must meet or exceed. According to §402.302(2), a child care facility is defined as:

“Any child care center or child care arrangement which provides child care for more than five children unrelated to the operator and which receives a payment, fee, or grant for any of the children receiving care, wherever operated, and whether or not operated for profit.”

Florida’s child care law provides additional requirements and standards that all child care facilities must meet, relating to:

  • The child-to-staff ratio, or the number of children one adult can care for at a time
  • The legal group size, or number of children permitted per class
  • How long the facility may supervise children (must be under 24 hours)
  • Standards of safety, including cleanliness, functionality, and emergency exits
  • Measures to halt the spread of disease, including immunizations, diapering, and handwashing
  • Nutrition of food provided to children
  • Training and healthiness of all adults employed at the child care facility

Why Must Child Care Facilities Hold a Valid License to Operate?

It is prohibited under Florida §402.312 to operate a child care facility, family day care home, or large family child care home without a valid state license. Those who operate without a license are subject to face a complaint and civil or even criminal charges.

While a license is mandatory to operate as a child care facility, the requirements to attain and keep one are the minimum standards and do not guarantee quality. Licensure does, however, ensure that programs are monitored for compliance with these legal requirements.

What Entity Licenses Child Care Facilities in Florida?

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the authorizing government body that licenses child care facilities and daycare homes in 62 out of 67 counties in Florida. The DCF also manages the registration of family day care homes in those counties which regulate licensure individually. The five counties which regulate licensing of child care facilities and homes include:

  • Broward
  • Hillsborough
  • Palm Beach
  • Pinellas
  • Sarasota

What Complaints May Lead to Disciplinary Action Against a Child Care Facility?

A child care facility may face disciplinary action for operating without a valid license and many other violations that can ultimately harm the children they are meant to care for. Complaints that can lead to administrative fines, disciplinary actions, or a suspension or revocation of license include those related to:

  • Abuse or neglect of children
  • Health and safety concerns
  • Unethical business and advertising practices
  • Questionable policies and procedures

Child care facilities must take reasonable precautions to protect children from risks, like choking hazards or food allergies. If a child had a peanut allergy, for example, a daycare provider who allowed the child to eat peanuts would be considered negligent. Providing minimal care to children could result in charges of child abuse. Child care facilities also have strict regulations that must be followed when disciplining children and cannot spank or physically punish them for misbehavior.

The severity of any disciplinary action ultimately depends on the gravity of the child care facility’s charges.

How Does Someone File a Complaint Against a Child Care Facility?

To file a complaint against a Florida child care facility, individuals would contact DCF either online or by calling 239-338-1341. Complaints can be made by any individual and may be given anonymously. After receiving a complaint, a licensing inspector would contact the child care facility and inform them of details of the allegation.

How Does the Complaint Process Work in Florida?

When a Florida child care facility is subject to a complaint, an investigation is opened by the DCF. The inquiry involves finding sufficient evidence to decide whether the claim can proceed to the next step.

Information collected during an investigation usually includes:

  • Interviews with complainants
  • Interviews with the subject of the complaint
  • Interviews with witnesses
  • Issuance of subpoenas
  • Recording sworn statements
  • Gathering documented evidence
  • Preparing reports to present

As a licensed child care provider, it’s strongly advised that you obtain qualified professional license legal defense to help you create a comprehensive response to the investigation procedure. Often, an experienced lawyer can end the investigation process at its initial stages, keeping you from enduring further damage to your business or reputation.

The Probable Cause Panel Reviews the Complaint

If the investigation secures enough evidence to move the claim to the next phase, the complaint will be reviewed by a Probable Cause Panel. That will usually involve members on the DCF who review the records and evidence related to the complaint.

It is imperative that you have trustworthy legal defense counsel throughout this process, and you do not try to manage the situation alone.

The Panel Review can result in three possible outcomes:

  • Finding “no probable cause”
  • Issuing a “letter of guidance”
  • Issuing a formal Administrative Complaint

A finding of “no probable cause” is a dismissal of the case, which means there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that you violated any rule or regulation. A “letter of guidance” is not a disciplinary action, but it’s issued when the panel finds a minor violation. The most severe outcome is when a formal Administrative Complaint is issued against you.

Process of an Administrative Complaint

An Administrative Complaint describes the statements and evidence found against you gathered during the investigation and the particular laws or regulations you’re alleged of breaching. Following consultations with your lawyer, you elect to attend either an Informal Hearing or a Formal Hearing.

Informal Review

If you choose to continue with an Informal Hearing, you do not wish to dispute any charges against you, nor do you plan to disclose any new evidence. Instead, you’re acknowledging the complaints. You’ll face the Board again, where they’ll make a final decision about what penalties will be enforced against you.

Formal Review

If you want to dispute the accusations and evidence that has been found against you during the investigation, you proceed with a Formal Hearing. This hearing is before Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) and is chaired by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ hears the evidence from both sides and makes a final Recommended Order to the DCF. The Department then makes a final decision concerning disciplinary actions.

You can appeal the decision by submitting a judicial review petition if your child care license is suspended or withdrawn. It is imperative to consult with your attorney and depend on them for trusted counsel as you go through this process—always seek advice from them before making any decisions.

How Can a Professional License Defense Lawyer Help?

At The Umansky Law Firm, our professional license defense team reviews each case in great detail to discover the pertinent facts and the best method to protect your child care license. Overall, some complaints can go to criminal court, and you can face criminal charges. Having a capable criminal lawyer who manages professional license defense is a top priority.

Umansky administrative attorneys can help you in a variety of ways, including:

  • Investigate the complaint against you and develop a defense by securing evidence, documents, and witnesses that benefit you
  • Prevent you from incriminating yourself as you defend against the assertions
  • Defend against potential criminal charges that can arise from the complaint
  • Determine the motive or bias of the person who made the complaint
  • Help you respond to the Probable Cause Investigation by securing documents, witnesses, and other methods to establish there is no probable cause for the complaint
  • Attempt to get the complaint thrown out by the Probable Cause Panel
  • Argue that a guidance letter is better than a prosecution
  • Lessen any potential punishments the Department may want to take
  • Present evidence, witnesses, and cross-examine State’s witnesses at a formal review hearing
  • Help dispute the findings at an Informal Review Hearing
  • Appeal the hearing

Experienced Legal Representation for Licensed Child Care Facilities in Orlando

When your professional license is in jeopardy, you need a lawyer who can put years of expertise and experience defending professionals to work for you. If you’ve been charged with committing an act that might prompt the DCF to revoke your license, contact The Umansky Law Firm to provide vigorous representation on your behalf. As skilled trial attorneys, we have a unique insight into the evidence code. We can help you prepare a robust defense that may dismiss the allegation or complaint against you.

The Umansky Law Firm attorneys include former prosecutors and defense attorneys, and some have worked directly with the DCF. We will go to great lengths to defend your right to practice as a licensed child care facility in Florida. To speak with an experienced administrative lawyer, complete an online contact form or call today at (407) 228-3838.