Equity and not Equality: Licensing Day Care Centers in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements

July 29, 2022

Most entrepreneurs desire to meet the industry’s legal requirements to run their businesses. Permits legitimize their business and reduce questioning with regulatory bodies. A daycare center with a license may attract more clients than one without. The permit acts as a stamp of approval and proof that the institution meets the standard of care.

While most daycare operators would wish to have this valuable document, very few have been able to acquire it. During the Early Childhood Development (ECD) ‘s Community of Practice dissemination workshop, all stakeholders agreed that daycare licensing was the key to upscaling the project and the interventions therein. The workshop’s main aim was to discuss the project’s scalability, focusing on improving the quality of daycare centers in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

There was a consensus that daycare centers in informal settlements must be recognized. But how can this happen while many facilities continue to operate without a license? Well, most daycare center providers were unaware of how to acquire a permit for a daycare center.

According to statistics, 95% of the daycare centers in informal settlements in Nairobi are not registered as per the current requirements. This number is a worrying state of affairs. The city education department, mandated with school licensing, still maintains a hard stance on the minimum requirements for all daycare centers in Nairobi. The minimum standards are a classroom size of 8 by 6 meters to accommodate a maximum of 25 children and an outdoor play area enough for the number of children in the center to play and run around safely. The daycare centers should have toilets/latrines for boys, girls, and teachers (Toilet: Child ratio =1:25) and be designed for young children. It may be considered unreasonable to have the same standardized regulations for daycare centers in informal settlements where the majority of daycare centers are home-based, operated within the set-up of a dwelling unit that the daycare managers use for other purposes. Questions abound on whether the Nairobi city county should continue regarding daycare centers as schools, thus standardizing regulations for daycare centers and schools. These and other roadblocks face daycare service providers and the users who have waited for so long for the daycare centers to be licensed.

For the developers of the ECD guidelines, ECD is the period from conception to eight years of age when most children enroll in daycare centers, young children (aged 0-3 years), and pre-school-aged children (4-5 years). According to the guidelines, every child shall have the right to life, survival, and development, name and nationality, registration at birth, health and parental care, protection from all forms of abuse, proper and adequate nutrition, shelter, early stimulation, education, parental, spiritual guidance, privacy, non-discrimination, leisure, and recreation.

The government maintains that daycare owners must adhere to the guidelines for establishing daycare centers and the procedures set by various government authorities (e.g., Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, etc.). From the government’s perspective, the regulations should be enforced equally in all daycare centers, irrespective of location. Through this hard stance, daycare centers in informal settlements and those from formal settlements have to be subjected to similar regulations. How feasible are these guidelines for daycare providers in the informal settlements, given the extreme poverty, poor infrastructure, and lack of resources in these settings? Yet the need for daycare in these locations cannot be overemphasized.

However, the law is clear on the minimum requirements for daycare centers, whether private or public. More must be done to communicate policies to the public, as most service providers are not well informed. The requirements for registration include a sizeable room depending on the number of children, play and learning equipment, water availability, toilet facilities meeting the toilet-child ratio, outdoor play space, etc. According to the Nairobi city county, the regulations for caregivers include at least a certificate in ECD offered by the government or any other recognized institution, registration by the teachers’ service commission, and a certificate of good conduct as proof that the caregiver has no criminal record, etc.

The government’s strict requirement to adhere to the guidelines by all ECD service providers is to ensure the safety, well-being, survival, care, and holistic development of children from conception to 8 years old. The county government of Nairobi has taken critical steps to scale down the requirements for licensing in the ECD guidelines. They have reduced the licensing cost for daycare centers in informal settlements to Kshs. 5,000 per year, while the fee for daycare centers in formal settlements remains at Kshs. 10,000 per year. The Nairobi County government ECD standard guidelines have also scaled the minimum acreage for ECD centers in urban slums to less than 0.125 acres, provided they meet basic sanitation and health conditions. We believe lowering the licensing fee, and minimum acreage alone is not enough. More requirements need to be scaled down.

For daycare centers catering to children living with disability to be licensed, they must adhere to the standards for quality services for children with special needs. These standards include access to sporting activities within and outside ECD programs and ECD centers having at least one teacher aide to assist children with special needs. The daycare centers having children with disability are supposed to also adhere to the standards for quality service from conception to three years for all daycare centers. Daycare centers in informal settlements with children living with a disability can hardly meet these standards.

The government can address the existing equal standards by enhancing equity through the policies. On the ground, the government should mainstream the process of acquiring licenses by making it easy, scale down the expectations from the standards in informal settlements, and those with children with special needs, and streamline the collaborative exercise of daycare inspection, which is currently the responsibility of different departments in different ministries. Given the inequalities between various contexts, such approaches are likely to yield equitable and achievable standards and a win-win position for all stakeholders in childcare, particularly in low-income communities.