How Preschool Works in Colorado

Takeaway: Colorado offers resources for locating child care, and both center- and home-based options require licensing. Oversight of regulation compliance is far from rigorous, however. In addition, Colorado offers limited opportunities for public pre-K, although options are available for academically at-risk children.

Overview

Colorado offers a state-funded preschool program for at-risk children, though families must contact their local district representatives to determine eligibility. A recent bill to expand preschool enrollment — which is defined as a part-day program for five more children between the ages of 2.5 and 7 years — has been postponed for the foreseeable future. As mandated by federal and state law, Colorado does provide preschool special education services for children with special needs or developmental delays. Colorado’s Department of Human Resources offers a child care facility database that allows families to search either by location or provider name; results can then be filtered according to type of provider and age of the child. The state also directs parents of infants and toddlers to Qualistar, a nonprofit organization that manages child care research and referral agencies that help match families to child care programs. Although Colorado requires licensing for most child care circumstances, lack of inspection and consequences for failure to comply with regulations are causes for serious concern.

Center-Based Care

Child care centers are required to be licensed when five or more children are onsite. The Office of Early Childhood furnishes both the general rules for child care facilities as well as the rules that regulate child care centers. Large child care centers provide care for 16 or more children between the ages of 2.5 and 16 years. Small child care centers supervise up to 15 children of the same age range. Infant nurseries are dedicated to children between the ages of 6 weeks and 18 months, and toddler nurseries provide care for children (who are mobile) between the ages of 12 months and 36 months. Programs are required to supply parents with documentation concerning their policies and procedures. Staff members must complete 15 hours of training per year in addition to tri-annual training in universal precautions such as CPR. Directors of large and small child care centers, as well as infant nurseries, are required to meet specific education requirements, which vary depending on the size of the operation. Infant and toddler nurseries have additional staff requirements concerning the specific nature of caring for younger children.

The following staff-to-child ratios must be observed: 1:5 for infants between the ages of 6 weeks and 18 months; 1:5 for toddlers between 12 and 36 months; 1:7 for toddlers between 24 and 36 months; 1:8 for children between the ages of 2.5 and 3 years; 1:10 for children ages 3 to 4 years; 1:12 for children ages 4 to 5 years; 1:15 for children 5 years and older; 1:10 for mixed-aged groups of children between ages 2.5 and 6 years. The maximum allowable group size varies according to age.

Home-Based Care

Family child care homes are required to be licensed if care is provided for two or more unrelated children. Different licenses are available depending on the age of children being cared for. The rules regulating family child care homes articulate the ratios and maximum group numbers for different licenses. In the case of home-based providers, care may be offered to children up to the age of 18 to accommodate those with special needs. Regular child care homes may provide care for up six children as long as no more than two are under 2 years of age. A different license, which requires additional training, permits a ratio of 1:6 with no more than three children under the age of 2 and no more than two of those children under the age of 1. Infant and toddler licenses permit a 1:4 ratio for children under the age of 3, with no more than two children under the age of 12 months. Large child care homes may supervise between seven and 12 children, with no more than two children under the age of 2. An assistant is required when more than eight children are present. Colorado offers an Experienced Child Care Provider License for caregivers who meet certain requirements and may thus follow alternative ratio options.

Unlicensed Care

There are a few instances in which programs may be legally exempt from licensing, including care provided during religious services, in facilities approved by the state or federal government, or in a family home limited to one child or two or more siblings from the same family.

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