First Steps in Starting your own Early Childhood Care and Education Service
Deciding to open your own business is a big step and should not be taken lightly. Whether you are entering into this as a sole trader operating for profit or as part of a larger community group of volunteers as a not for profit venture, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make a service successful. The early childhood sector, like every other, is based on a business model of working therefore services do experience, and sometimes suffer from, competition and financial difficulties. It is important, therefore that if you decide to take on this venture that you are willing to put everything into it to make it a success.
The first thing for you to do is to establish the type of service you will be offering. In order to be fully informed in making this decision it is important that you conduct a needs analysis. A needs analysis can take many forms but is mainly done in the form of a survey (sample appendix 1)
To identify a need look at
- potential customers and type of service (e.g. Full Day Care) required in the area
- existing services in the area (do they have waiting lists?)
- average cost for childcare in the area
- market research
- conduct a survey
- speak to local families
- consult demographics/statistics for the area (Census 2011)
- research any potential developments for the area that will generate more employment/ increase in housing.
From the results of your needs analysis decide on the type of service you will be providing; the following are some of the options that are available to you.
Full Day Care
Full Day Care is offered for a minimum of 5 hrs continuously, and usually covers the traditional working day (from 8am to 6pm). The age range of children catered for can vary from 5 months-5 years, however many Full Day Care facilities offer a combination of services including Full Day Care, Preschool and/or School Age Childcare.
A Pre-school service is offered for up to 3.5 hrs per session (i.e. morning or afternoon) and provides planned care and educational programmes for children attending. Children catered for include those in the 2yrs 9mths – 5 years age bracket. Playgroups, Pre-schools, Montessori Schools and Naíonraí are all included in this category.
School Age Childcare
School Age Childcare may be based in a school, community centre or private premises and provides age appropriate care and activities for school age children outside of school hours (emphasis on play and recreation). Children catered for include those in the 5 –14 year age bracket. This type of service can offer one or a combination of the following: Breakfast Club, After-school Club and camps to cover school holiday periods.
A Childminder cares for 3 or less pre-school children in her own home. Children catered for include those in the 5 months – 14 age bracket. Parent’s benefit from flexibility and an individually tailored childcare arrangement, which can alter as needs change over time.
2. Determine the legal status of your service
In the early childhood care and education sector there are two different types of service provision, Community and Private.
- Community early childhood service is managed by a voluntary management committee registered as a company limited by guarantee and operating on a not for profit basis.
- Private early childhood service is owned and managed by a private individual/s as a profit making business and is registered as a sole trader or partnership.
3.Write a Business Plan
Elements of a Business Plan:
- Business idea
- Experience and qualifications
- Competitive advantage of the proposed business
- Users of the service
- Market research
- Marketing/promotion of your service
- Employment (i.e. qualified childcare staff required)
- Budget (income and expenditure).
4.Identify suitable premises
Identify suitable premises; ensure there are appropriate indoor and outdoor facilities. Consult with the Tusla Child and Family agency. When choosing a premises pay particular attention to the regulations specifically dealing with the space required to ensure you can cater for the number of children you plan for.
Current space ratios for a full-time day care service:
Age of child Floor Area
0-1 year 3.5 sq meters per child
1-2years 2.8 sq meters per child
2-3years 2.35 sq meters per child
3-6years 2.3 sq meters per child
5.Visit examples of best practice
When designing a service for children, it is recommended that you visit similar services to give you ideas on how to layout your environment. Sometimes what can look good, or what you think may be a good idea, may not work well in practice, therefore it is good to speak to someone in the position who can best advise you.
6.Arrange a meeting with your Childcare Development Officer
Once you have a clear plan of what you want to do, contact DCCC on 074-9123442 to arrange an appointment with your Childcare Development Officer. They will support you in moving your project forward, providing you with the next steps to take in realising your dream!
7. Determine sources of funding
At present there are no Government funding programmes to support people to open their own early childhood service. Look around all potential lenders, i.e. bank/credit union and decide if this is a viable option for you. Contact your local development company and make an appointment to meet with their Enterprise Officer, who can provide guidance on other sources of funding in your area.
8.Identify and consult architect, engineer, solicitor, accountant, planner, fire officer, bank
It is now time to consult with professionals on the design, set up and build of your project.
9.Consult Environmental Health Officer/ Tusla Pre-School Inspection Team
Send a copy of your proposed plans to the inspection team for comment on compliance with the Pre-school Services Regulations.
10.Apply for Planning Permission (if appropriate)
Contact the Donegal County Council, Planning Section at: 074 91 72222. You should also contact the Fire Safety Officer at Donegal County Council for a Fire Safety Certificate.
11.Notify Tusla of your intention to open the service
Notification to the Child and Family Agency should be submitted 28 days prior to opening the childcare service. Contact Doris Keatley (secretary) on 074-9123669 for an application form.
12.Establish policies and procedures
When considering your childcare policies and procedures, it is important to include areas such as:
- Admissions, drop off and collections
- Infection Control
- Fire Safety
- Curriculum, Observation and Assessment
- Child Protection
- Promoting Positive Behaviour
- Record keeping
- Health and Safety
- Parental involvement
- Personnel (staff recruitment, staff development)
13.Market and promote the childcare service
Now that your service is well on its way to being up and running, you can now begin advertising and marketing your service. Consider a marketing plan; release a media advertisement, put advertisements in local papers and shops, or deliver flyers to businesses, shops and houses/housing estates.
14.Selection and recruitment of staff
When considering who you will recruit, here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Job descriptions – What you want from your employees
- Qualifications and Experience
- The process of recruiting staff (advertising, short listing, interviewing)
- Contracts of Employments
- Conditions of Employment (e.g. Hours/days of work and holidays).
15. Build the capacity of the service through professional development, training, quality improvement
Keep up to date with developments in the sector through DCCC Continuous Professional Development training.
Please follow the link for sample Template for conducting research for Childcare Service