Takeaway: Arkansas provides parents with comprehensive information about the different kinds of available child care. It requires that all providers — whether they are center- or home-based — adhere to set standards. Even unlicensed providers are inspected and evaluated by state authorities. While the state’s pre-K ranks high in national studies, the lack of funding has led to decreased enrollment and signals a possible decline in quality.
The state lists four different types of child care, which are regulated and licensed to different degrees: licensed child care centers, licensed child care family homes, out-of-school time care, and registered child care family homes. Arkansas has a robust database search, which filters by age, facility type, operating hours, and proximity to a given location. Results provide quality ratings, hours of operation, license details, and contact information. Arkansas also places an emphasis on after-school enrichment programs that serve children between the ages of 5 and 19.
Arkansas offers some of the highest-quality pre-K in the country — its pre-K program recently met nine of the ten benchmarks set forth by the National Institute for Early Education. In 2003, the state launched Arkansas Better Chance for children from low-income families, a program initially intended to serve as a precursor to a universal state pre-K. Unfortunately, the state has faced funding woes since 2008. There are concerns that lack of funding may eventually cause a reduction in the number of slots available and a decline in quality of education, though the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education recently received a federal grant to increase the enrollment of 4-year-olds in some communities.
Center-based care providers in Arkansas are located in commercial establishments and are typically affiliated with public or private organizations. They usually offer care for a higher number of children than home-based providers. Arkansas has extensive licensing requirements that outline the necessary conditions for personnel, programs, behavior guidance, recordkeeping, nutrition, facilities, learning environments, furniture, health, safety, transportation, and special needs accommodations. Care centers are required to display information regarding daily scheduling and health and safety regulations; they are also required to offer parents the opportunity to engage in their child’s learning process (for instance, by observing lessons, meeting with instructors, or interacting with the school’s website). Centers must maintain the following staff-to-child ratios: 1:5 for children for ages newborn to 18 months; 1:8 for ages 18 to 36 months; 1:12 for ages 2.5 to 3 years; 1:15 for 4-year-olds; and 1:18 for children ages 5 and older.
Home-based care providers who specialize in infant care must maintain a ratio of 1:3 and pass inspection by the fire department. Otherwise, fire and health inspections are required for homes licensed to care for 11 or more children. As is the case for center-based care, the state’s Division of Child Care and Early Education publishes the minimum licensing requirements that home-based care providers must meet.
Home-based care in Arkansas requires licensing when a provider cares for between six and 16 children in a family residence. In order to be licensed, the following staff-to-child ratios must be maintained. For one caregiver, there may be between three and six children ages 0 and up, with no more than three children under age 2; 7 children ages 0 and up (with no more than two children under age 2); eight children ages 0 and up (with no more than one child under age 2); nine children ages 2 and up (with no more than three children beween ages 2 and 3); or ten children ages 3 and up. For two caregivers, there may be between three and six children ages 0 and up; between seven and 14 children ages 0 and up (with no more than four children under age 2); or between 15 and 16 children ages 0 and up (with no more than two children under age 2). For three caregivers, there may be between seven and 14 children ages 0 and up (with no more than five children under age 2); or between 15 and 16 children ages 0 and up (with no more than four children under age 2).
Arkansas considers unlicensed care programs to be “registered home care.” Registered home care facilities are still required to meet the same health and safety standards as licensed family care facilities, and — as their name suggests — they must register with the state. There are three types of registered home care: registered family, relative family, and in-home provider care. All three types of care are for five or fewer children. Registered family care takes place in the caregiver’s own residence, while relative family care refers to a situation in which the provider is a relative of the children, and in-home provider care describes a situation in which children receive care in their own home. If a registered home care program grows such that it serves six or more children from more than a single family, it is required by law to undergo the licensing process.
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