Child care centers care for children in groups and are generally operated out of non-residential, commercial buildings. Centers are larger and enroll more children than a home-based provider. They are usually divided into groups or classrooms of similarly aged children with a dedicated director and numerous staff members.

About This Type of Care

Child care centers may be privately operated for profit by a chain or individual, or operated by non-profit agencies, including churches, public schools or government agencies.

While all states have regulations for licensed centers, not all center-based programs are required to be licensed. This depends on the requirements within your state.

Some examples of center-based programs that may not be required to be licensed include:

  • early childhood programs operated by schools
  • school-age before-and after-school programs
  • summer camps
  • faith-based programs, including Parent’s Day Out programs
  • part-time programs, including some Nursery Schools, Preschools and Pre-Kindergarten programs

Your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency can help you determine if your provider is required to be regulated and, if so, what regulations must be met. Find your local CCR&R with a zip code search on our CCR&R Search page.

Regulation does not ensure child care quality; however, it does set minimum health and safety standards and ensures that programs are regularly monitored for compliance with the regulations. Visit our page on child care licensing for more information.

Tips for Choosing This Type of Care

  • When visiting a center-based child care program, ask to see a copy of the program’s license and inspection history. Some states post inspection histories online. Check to see if your state has inspection reports available online for you. These inspection reports will provide valuable information about the quality of your child care program. Check them before you select a program and periodically during the time that your child is enrolled.
  • When visiting a center-based child care program, make sure that every adult working or volunteering within the program has had a comprehensive criminal history check.
  • Ask how many adults are present in each classroom (staff to child ratios) and about the teachers’ education and training histories. Make sure that every teacher has had training on key health and safety standards such as first aid and CPR, safe sleep, medication administration and child development. Learn more about the ten recommended health and safety trainings that all adults caring for children should have.
  • Find out if your child’s teacher has an early childhood credential or degree and how long he or she has been working in the early childhood field.
  • Ask about the program’s staff turnover rate. A program that has experienced a large amount of teacher turnover may mean that your child may experience numerous transitions to new teachers or that other issues are present within the center that could impact the overall quality of the program.
  • Ask your child care center teacher what curriculum is being used. Ask him or her to explain the types of daily activities they have planned and how those activities support your child’s learning.
  • Make sure that the provider’s policies and philosophies on discipline, supervision, safe sleep, nutrition, child development and learning align with what you want for your child.
  • Print a list of questions and things to look for that you can take with you when visiting a potential child care program
  • Get a copy of your provider’s policies, and sign a contract that outlines key areas. These areas should include hours of operation, rates, fees, field trip permission slips, transportation agreements and absence policies. Read more about recommended items that should be included in a child care contract.

Why Families May Choose This Type of Care

Many families choose child care centers because of the more structured, classroom-like environment. Families may like that their children are cared for in groups with other children their same age. They may also appreciate the greater number of adults present in the building. Families often like child care centers because of the larger groups of children present and the variety of equipment, supplies and activities. Families also report feeling that licensed child care centers are safe because they often have the most regulations and inspections.