Takeaway: Florida’s preschool system is extensive, and boasts particularly well-regulated center-based care. Other options include both registered and licensed family-based care, along with three categories of unlicensed and unregulated family care. Families can use an effective online search tool to find the best options for them. The tool breaks down results by provider type, possible services, and location, and also reports on detailed inspection histories.
Florida’s online search tool can filter results by provider type, services offered, and county. Searches display contact information, operating hours, student capacity, and a detailed history of inspection reports. The state also encourages parents to take an active role in inquiring about and observing their child’s program so that they can become familiar with the facility itself and with the program’s practices.
Florida offers a wide range of pre-K options, with a considerable number of family care and unlicensed programs. This gives residents the freedom to choose a solution that meets both their child care and their financial needs. Florida maintains a strict set of standards for all pre-K programs to follow.
All licensed facilities must have documentation that is visibly displayed, staff that has been appropriately screened, disciplinary procedures that have been formally codified, and a proper staff-to-child ratio for a given age group. Required caregiver-to-child ratios vary based on child age, as follows: Up to age 1, facilities must have one staff member for every four children. For ages 12 to 24 months, one staff member must not be responsible for any more than six kids. For ages 2 to 3 years, the staff-to-child ratio is 1:11. For ages 3 to 4, the ratio is 1:15. For ages 4 to 5, the required ratio is one staff member for every 20 children. For 5-year-olds, one staffer can be responsible for no more than 25 children.
Teachers must have at least 40 hours of child care training and are required to complete annual service training. Each facility is also obligated to keep proper records regarding child health, enrollment and personnel, and accidents and incidents. Centers are inspected to ensure that they meet health, safety, and licensing standards. These licensing standards include space requirements, parental access rights, and personnel background checks.
There are two types of family care: registered family care and licensed family care. The primary difference involves licensing procedures — registered family care facilities only have to meet minimal standards (including annual health and safety inspections, personnel background checks, and staff training in literacy and language development). Licensed family care facilities, on the other hand, are required not only to meet minimum standards, but also to adhere to stricter ones: proper CPR and first-aid training, compliance with annual renewal inspections, and the provision of accommodations for children with special needs.
These programs, like their center-based counterparts, must abide by caregiver-to-child ratio requirements. One caregiver can be responsible for no more than four children from birth to 1 year; for no more than six children provided no more than three are under a year old; or for no more than ten children (with at least five of school age and two or fewer under 1 year). Two caregivers can take on up to eight kids if more than four of them are under 2 years old; or they can take on 12 if four or fewer are under 2 years old.
Florida has three specific types of legal unlicensed care (informal, family, and nanny), and allows a number of different kinds of organizations to be exempt from licensure. The first type of unlicensed care, informal care, takes place in a home in which an adult cares for children from a single family. Informal care has no guidelines and is not subject to inspection. The caregiver is often a relative, neighbor, or friend. The second category, family child care, is similar to informal care, but takes place with a group of children who are not related to one another. The category of nanny care covers any situation in which a nanny or au pair provides live-in, individualized care for a small group of children. Au pairs must be certified by the U.S. Department of State. All religious programs, summer camps, nonprofit membership organizations, and hotel care programs are exempt from licensing requirements. In order for a religious organization to be exempt from licensure, its parent institution must be accredited by the state, and it must execute background screening of employees, comply with relevant health and safety regulations, keep records of student attendance and enrollment, have caregivers certified in CPR and first aid, and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.