Alternative learning options are popping up quickly. Let's not miss some important details as we rush to get things in place.
I have been doing a lot of research (like, stay up all night reading statutes, sit on 3 hour phone calls talking with professionals and official entities, a lot) to get some concrete information on what the regulations and requirements are as we are setting up these alternative care options.
As I've been working on Stronger Together ATX, and on finding solutions for my own family, I've been torn between going rogue/making it work/damn The Man...and following the rules.
My gravitation toward the latter is primarily because, a) I personally don't want to work to create a situation that I then find out I can't actually make happen, b) I don't want The Man to shut down crafty mamas and papas when they realize we're skirting their regulations and not paying them their money, c) I don't want my beloved neighbors to end up in a pickle because of logistical annoyances like not complying with zoning codes, or not realizing they were going to owe self-employment tax.
Anywho, I have been compiling a ton of info for Stronger Together ATX, and working on ways we can get State and business support for our alternative learning and care options...BUT I wanted to hustle and post a little PSA.
Note: these are based on current requirements and regulations and may be subject to change as our situation changes. There will also be broader discussion of these topics in future articles, interviews, and posts.
There are maximum numbers of kids you can watch outside of your own, and these numbers are dictated through several government entities. Three kids or less seems to be the magic number for the fewest hiccups.
4+ kids opens you up to potential issues with said entities, including zoning, Health & Human Services, etc. Though not impossible to navigate, it's something to consider. If you're considering this as a longer term situation, or want to have more kids...great! Think about beginning the process with HHS for a Registered or Licensed Home. They're doing everything 1:1, though they're working on migrating the process online. Note: any other kids you have, like babies, count in your total numbers.
If you're watching kids in your home and any payment, in dollars or services, changes hands...the great nation of Texas politely asks that you file as either a Listed, Registered, or Licensed home with HHS.
If you have kids in your home for 4+ hours per day, 3+ days per week, for 3+ weeks...the great nation of Texas politely asks that you file as either a Listed, Registered, or Licensed home with HHS. [There may be loopholes here for school closure care. Working on finding that out.]
[FYI: when you apply to be a Listed home with the State, the lowest involvement option, it costs $20 per year, requires no inspection, and you get free background checks. It limits you to 3 children, so if you're thinking of caring for more than that, consider filing as Registered or Licensed.
Additionally, if Federal, State or local funding is going to go to support those who cannot pay for alternative care options, it is highly likely that participating options will have to be on file with the State.]
Other Legal & Compliance Considerations
Check with your insurance company to make sure you have adequate coverage. You may have to prove this coverage in some cases as well. (And it's just a good idea.)
Make sure your HOA, community covenant, apartment complex, etc. will allow you to host kids in your home. Remember that most (all?) code compliance issues arise when you're reported by a neighbor.
If you're not already offering services, and you're transitioning to watching, educating, supervising, tutoring, teaching a skill...whatever...consider whether you're going to be an employee or formally start a business. Both require paperwork, both have liability associated, and both require you to pay taxes if you make over a certain amount (over $2200 per family in one year for Nanny Tax, and over $400 per year total for a business. And self-employment tax is typically clocked at 30-35%. )
If you start a business, think about whether you'd be better off with an LLC or other business entity to protect your assets. (I'm working on a full interview to get all the best answers for families here.)
Even if you're working with families you know and trust, it's a good idea to make sure everyone who will come in contact with your child, including teenage children, have a current background check. (FYI: HHS helps with this when you file with them.)
If you're thinking about starting a pod, co-op, or other alternative care option, remember that there are families who cannot afford to buy-in.
Grey Areas and Exceptions
We are identifying best practices and options for people to create alternative care options that work for their families. Loopholes, fancy fixes, and creative compliance can work...but there is a lot that is still unknown. Here are some thoughts:
When children are on-site in a place that is licensed to care for children in other ways (like when your karate academy wants to host tutoring groups) it seems that it has not yet been okayed by the State (though the inspector said he didn't think it would be a problem) just as an FYI for people who are considering that option.
There are some hazy exceptions to regulations, like if no money changes hands, very temporary care, or when you're home while your kids are being cared for. I am working to get some clear direction on these. [If you have any specific questions, I'd love to hear them!]
Other Considerations & Bigger Conversations
If you're thinking about starting a pod, co-op, or other alternative care option, remember that there are families who cannot afford to buy-in. Leaving a spot in your group for an un-paying member, or sponsoring a family to join a group that suits their needs are excellent ways to make options more equitable. [We are working directly with businesses and political leaders to speed funding for these programs, but also consider the social effects of isolating groups of individuals based on income.]
Frontline and essential workers can have better luck creating pods together, as those with high risk have had trouble finding groups that suit their needs.
Keep pressuring your boss/HR department for support for Austin families. We all have to work together to make working + parenting, actually work.
There's a lot more, of course, and I welcome other information, questions, and considerations. I also look forward to continuing all the conversations as we navigate this! #StrongerTogether