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Full Access Versus Locking Doors in Family Child Care Facilities

During our recent travels to Kansas and California, an alarming theme emerged among family childcare providers. While inquiring about how to secure a childcare facility, many family child care providers stated that licensure regulations prevented them from locking their doors during operating hours. This presented a huge red flag for us, as unlocked doors can lead to deadly consequences.

Always keep outside doors locked for the safety of children and staff.

We decided to do some digging on this topic for clarification. We reached out to California and Kansas licensing officials to learn more. In both cases, we received clarification regarding the policy. Neither state requires (or wants) doors to be left open and unlocked.

“For Child Care Centers which are considered a Group E occupancy, California Fire Code Section 1008.1.9 states that doors shall be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort. In other words, doors can be locked for ingress, but must be able to be opened from the inside in order to appropriately exit in case of fire or emergency.” Stated a California licensing specialist. Further, “In both types of facilities, a door alarm is also permissible in addition to being locked from ingress (outside in).”

We discovered that in the state of California, family child care providers cannot use an alarm bell in lieu of locking facility doors from the outside and that there is no requirement in regulations that the outside doors are to remain unlocked during the hours of operation.

Similar confusion was had in Kansas. Kansas Health and Environment stated, “There are no child care licensing regulations that prevent someone from locking the front door of a license or group day care home. I also confirmed with KSFM (Kansas State Fire Marshal) that there are no fire regulations that prevent this either.”

What Might Be Causing This Confusion?

California’s Health and Safety Code Section 1596.857(c) states in part, “If a child day care facility denies a parent or legal guardian the right to enter, the department shall issue a warning citation…” With each citation carrying a civil penalty of $50, or license revocation, family child care providers cannot afford to stumble when it comes to allowing access to a parent or guardian. But, instead of giving parents and caregivers “access to inspect the facility without advance notice during the normal operating hours,” through a well-secured entry, providers are leaving facility doors unlocked, and open to the general public.

For Riverside County Fire Department Office of the Fire Marshal Official Guidelines, exiting rules state, “Egress doors, including manually operated horizontal sliding doors, shall be readily openable from the inside without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort. CBC 1015.7” This could easily be misinterpreted as a reason to keep all doors, inside and out, unlocked. However, no rules state that outside doors need to remain unlocked.

Childcare providers are leaving facility doors unlocked due to:

  • Fear of licensing fines or revocation.

  • With a high turnover rate in licensing inspectors, many are ill-equipped to interpret the rules as written, thus some inspectors are providing false information to child care providers.

  • Open door policy for caregivers: Allowing parents total access during operating hours (parents do not have to go through a buzzer, keypad, or other security measures before entering the facility).

  • Some centers have door alarms that indicate when someone walks through the door. However, these alarms provide zero security, not to mention they may malfunction, leaving your facility completely open to dangerous trespassers.

  • Many fire codes require that doors should not be locked from the inside, but, fire codes do not require unlocked access from the outside, meaning outside doors should ALWAYS remain locked and secured.

Why Leaving Outside Doors Unlocked is Dangerous

Leaving outside facility doors unlocked is a major security breach. Children can walk off unattended, or even be a victim of abduction, whether by a stranger or aggrieved parent. Unlocked doors also provide easy access to active shooters and other dangerous individuals who wish to inflict harm.

Understanding State Rules and Regulations

Every state has its own set of rules and regulations pertaining to family child care facilities. However, to our knowledge, there are no requirements in the United States that require outside doors to remain unlocked. We cannot stress enough that interior doors may require no locking mechanism, but exterior doors have separate rules from interior doors, and should always remain locked and secure. If you are unsure of the specific rules and regulations for your state, contact The Department of Health & Human Services, or a government agency specific to your needs, for clarification. Remember, asking a question for the safety and well-being of children is NEVER a problem.

Resolving This Dilemma

To keep kids safe, locking doors from the outside is always the best choice. We have a few suggestions that will keep your home child care facility secure on the outside and unlocked from the inside:

  • Honor the security systems - we have spent a lot of time and money installing locks, keypads, FOBs, etc. Remind parents that these systems are for the protection of their children.

  • Keypads with individual passcodes for staff and parents.

  • All visitors must be buzzed in after being visually identified.

  • It is important to have security cameras along with the buzzer to ensure unwanted parties do not tailgate into the building with unsuspecting parents.

  • Bluetooth unlocking systems: Providers can manage opening doors right from their smartphones.

A child care facility with a "Please Ring Bell for Assistance" sign.

How The Institute For Childhood Preparedness Can Help

Our award-winning first responders have over 20 years of experience in emergency preparedness and law, policy and regulation. We will come to your facility to ensure compliance with your state’s licensure regulations. Contact us today to schedule a Site Safety Survey or Active Threat Training:


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