How Preschool Works in Wyoming

Takeaway: Wyoming allocates no state funds to preschool programs and very limited funds to Head Start programs. For this reason, it falls within the bottom quintile both in terms of access and funding. Despite these shortcomings, private child care in the state is quite well regulated, and standards are strict. The state maintains a responsive search feature, which (though it requires registration) displays detailed results on an interactive map. The state also considers any unlicensed program — any individual caring for more than two unrelated children — to be illicit, and does not offer registration to such providers.

Overview

Wyoming’s preschool system is overseen by the Early Childhood Division of its Department of Family Services. The state has basic standards that require most child care programs — any programs that care for more than two children — to be licensed. Wyoming distinguishes among child care centers, family child care centers, and family child care homes.

Providers or directors of all licensed child care facilities must receive approval certifying they have no medical or emotional conditions that would keep them from caring for children. They must undergo criminal background checks (with special attention to child abuse and neglect) and fingerprinting, and they have to prove they’ve completed at least six hours of orientation training. Providers must also open their facilities to inspection to be licensed and agree to re-inspection every year thereafter. These licensing inspections include an examination of facilities and equipment therein and a thorough measurement of all play spaces. Annual fire and health/sanitation inspections are required, too. Directors of facilities must keep all relevant inspection records for parents’ or inspectors’ reference. Parents may raise complaints regarding child care facilities to either a local branch of law enforcement or to child protection services.

Wyoming is one of ten states that do not spend any public funds on preschool programs. This is discouraging, and the state has allocated only $7,881 in federal funds to Head Start programs. This modest sum has, bizarrely, made it one of four states not to have cut state education funding during the period from 2008 to 2012. No children are enrolled in state pre-K programs (due to their nonexistence) — and a scant eight percent of 3-year-olds and 11 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in Head Start. All others are either not receiving care outside the home or are involved in private child care.

Families wishing to use Wyoming’s database search tool must first create an account. They can filter results by location and care type. Results are displayed on both a list and an interactive map. Listings include operating hours, contact information, age ranges, and facility details.

Center-Based Care

In Wyoming, child care centers are facilities that provide care for a part of the day to more than 15 children in a non-residential setting. They must meet all requirements set forth in the overview section above, and are also subject to staff-to-child ratio guidelines.

Groups consisting of kids from birth to 1 year old cannot exceed 10, and ratios are as follows: 1:4, 2:8, and 3:10. For children ages 1 to 2, groups have a maximum total size of 12 and have these ratios: 1:5, 2:10, and 3:12. Groups for 2- and 3-year-olds have a maximum group size of 18, with the following ratios: 1:8, 2:16, and 3:18. Three-year-olds cannot exceed group sizes of 24, and their ratios are as follows: 1:10, 2:20, and 3:24. For 4- and 5-year-olds, there is a maximum group size of 30, with ratios of 1:12, 2:24, and 3:30. Finally, 6-year-olds and older cannot form groups larger than 40; their acceptable ratios are 1:18, 2:32, and 3:40. These guidelines also contain some exceptions, including the fact that guardians of kids over 10 can provide written permission allowing relaxed supervision, or that these ratios may be exceeded for up to an hour each day, or that different rules apply during nap times. Be sure to inquire with your provider about whether or not any of these rules are being suspended or compromised in any way.

Directors are required to be at least 21, to have a high school diploma or GED, to have at least one year of full-time experience in licensed or license-exempt child care and another year working closely with children under supervision from a qualified individual, to have at least ten college credit hours in “early childhood education, child development, nursing, or other child-related field,” and to have completed 100 hours of early care training. Wyoming places a lot of responsibility in the hands of directors of child care centers, and these staffers must abide by strict regulations both before taking such a position and once at work.

Parents are permitted unrestricted access to facilities. They are also entitled to information about inspection reports, ratio requirements, food service, and complaint and compliance histories.

Home-Based Care

There are two forms of home-based care: family child care homes and family child care centers. Family child care homes accommodate three to ten children in the provider’s home, with the provider being the sole caregiver.

Groups of kids under 1 year of age are capped at eight. Family child care home programs must maintain designated staff-to-child ratios. For kids up to 1 year old, ratios are 1:4 and 2:8. For children ages 1 to 2, ratios are 1:5 and 2:10. From 2 to 3, ratios are 1:8 and 2:10. One caregiver can oversee groups of up to ten kids ages 3 and up. Just as in center-based care, many technicalities and exemptions exist. Exercise your right as a parent to inquire about relevant ratio requirements and the way your chosen program interprets them.

Directors of family child care homes must have a high school diploma or GED, must have at least three months of experience under supervision, must have six hours of training in addition to provider orientation, and must have a professional credential from an organization designated by the Department of Family Services. These individuals must also undergo background checks and fingerprinting, and they must be at the facility for at least 75 percent of a 40-hour week.

Also as in center-based programs, parents have immediate and full access to their children and any spaces their children are allowed to enter. They must be informed of injuries their child sustains and have access to inspection reports, food plans, ratio requirements, and documentation about staff qualifications and training.

Family child care centers, on the other hand, can take place in the provider’s home or in a non-residential center and provide care to up to 15 children. If there are more than ten children in a program, an additional caregiver is required. Other than required staff-to-child ratios and the fact that these may take place in a non-residential setting, they are very similar to family child care homes. These ratios are 1:4, 2:8, and 3:10 for kids up to 1 year old (with a maximum of ten children). For children ages 1 to 2, permitted ratios are 1:5, 2:8, and 3:12, with a maximum group size of 12. From 2 to 3, allowable ratios are 1:8, 2:15, 3:15, with a cap at 15 kids. For 3- to 4-year-olds, ratios must be equal to or lower than 1:10 and 2:15, with a maximum group size of 15. Groups of 4- and 5-year-olds must not exceed 15, and must abide by ratios of 1:12 and 2:15. One caregiver may look after up to 15 kids ages 6 and up. As explained in previous categories, several technicalities and special circumstances exist, so be sure to check on your provider’s specific policies.

Unlicensed Care

Wyoming makes few exceptions to licensing standards. Any program that provides care to two or more unrelated children and is not explicitly exempt is considered illicit. Exempt programs include relative care, neighbor or friendly care, and care in the home of a child.

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