Fayetteville council considers loosening in-home childcare rules

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UPDATE 5/18/21: This ordinance was approved 8-0 at the May 18, 2021 City Council meeting.

It could soon become easier to operate a childcare business from home in Fayetteville.

City Council members on Tuesday will consider an ordinance to allow the operation of small, in-home childcare facilities by right throughout the city under certain conditions.

The city’s current law requires home childcare businesses to first obtain a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission. That burden, staff said, can be enough to either stifle a would-be childcare operator or cause some businesses to hide their operations and miss out on important resources.

Plus, that requirement does not align with state law which allows childcare in homes without any licensing as long as there are five or fewer children.

The NWA Child Care Association estimates that there are between 200 and 300 childcare businesses operating locally that do not have the proper permits. Many of those businesses, staff said, attempt to hide their operations, which prevents them from receiving resources like continuing education for providers, childcare vouchers, and access to rent or utility assistance.

City staff said many families in Fayetteville struggle with the costs associated with childcare. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable childcare as 7% of a household income per child, those costs are closer to 26% in Fayetteville, according to city documents.

“This leaves a growing gap within the City of Fayetteville for a much-needed service for additional childcare providers and parents,” according to a staff memo. “If a family has more than one child, the childcare costs alone can quickly remove people from our workforce. In some cases, this results in single-family homes relying on government assistance.”

Staff said with more children, the burden does not reduce per child as much as many would expect. For instance, there typically is only a 20%-25% discount per child in Fayetteville.

“This means that in a facility that charges 25% of a household income for childcare per child, and provides a discount per additional child, that a home with three children would spend 65% of the household income for childcare alone,” the memo states.

Loosening local regulations could lead to more affordable childcare options, staff said. Instead of driving longer distances to larger facilities, families could save money by choosing a nearby neighborhood business with a shorter drive, reducing time and transportation costs. A smaller facility could also operate with less overhead resulting in lower rates.

The proposal up for discussion on Tuesday would remove the need for a conditional use permit for facilities with five or fewer children. It would also remove the local stipulation for dedicated outdoor space that is proportional to the number of children in a facility. Finally, staff said it would allow under-the-radar facilities to open up to additional resources like those promoted by the NWA Child Care Association, which could translate to safer facilities overall.

The council will discuss the item at its next regular meeting on May 17.