The death of a three-month-old baby at an unlicensed daycare last week has some asking questions about what’s legal, and what’s not. 

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office said an infant was found unresponsive at a home daycare in the Hardin Valley area and later died at the hospital. 

Previous storyTDHS: Knox County daycare where 3-month-old died isn’t licensed

People often tend to associate “unlicensed” with “bad” or even “illegal,” but according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, that’s not always the case.

You need to be licensed by the state if you’re caring for more than four unrelated children for three or more hours a day. If you’re doing that and don’t have a license, and don’t meet the criteria for license-exempt status, then you are operating illegally. 

According to the state, operating a child care agency without the required license is a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense. 

Illegal operators will be investigated by Child Care Licensing staff. They’ll make an unannounced visit to the facility, and investigators will give the operator information on how to become licensed. Illegal operations, the state says, must cease immediately.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services shared some information to keep in mind before choosing a daycare facility. Be informed and start your search early. Visit the agency. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask about things like meals, nap time and teacher child ratios. Also, once your child is enrolled, make drop-in visits often. 

There’s is also a voluntary program that allows daycare centers to be ranked called the Star Quality Program. To check the rating of a daycare center in your area, click here to search by county.

We should point out that there have been no official accusations or charges to date against the day cares where those children died. Back in July, two toddlers died at a different Knox County daycare.

If you want to report suspected licensing violations or possible illegal child care operations, call the Child Care Complaint hotline at 1-800-462-8261. You can also email your information to ChildCareServices.DHS@tn.gov.