Many child care programs are required to have a child care license in order to legally provide child care. A child care license is separate from a business license.

What is child care licensing?

There are two main types of licensed child care: licensed child care centers and licensed family child care homes. Child care licensing standards set the minimum acceptable health, safety and program standards for the legal operation of child care programs. Licensed care, sometimes referred to as regulated care, is a baseline below which it is illegal to operate. It is not an indicator of quality care. Child care licensing regulations are set by individual states. Some counties, cities or municipalities may also have their own set of child care licensing standards.

What is covered in child care licensing?

Most licensing regulations cover the following topics:

  • Fire safety and fire drills
  • Group sizes – maximum number of children allowed in a group/class. This number depends on the age(s) of the children.
  • Health and safety – including immunizations, guidance and discipline policies, diapering, hand-washing, administration of medications, reporting accidents and illness, preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), storage of hazardous materials, playground safety, and emergency preparedness plans
  • Lighting, heating/air conditioning, exits and fire doors, construction materials and fencing
  • Minimum education requirements and ongoing training requirements for providers
  • Nutrition and food preparation
  • Parent involvement, communication with parents and parental access to programs when their children are present
  • Physical space – number of square feet needed per child for both indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Record keeping
  • Required activities for children
  • Required background checks
  • Sanitation – proper sanitizing or disinfecting of toileting areas, food preparation areas, play equipment, carpeting and floor areas and adequate ventilation
  • Adult to child ratios – the minimum number of adults required for a specific number of children. The number depends on the age of the children.

How can I get a child care license?

The process to becoming a licensed child care provider varies by state. Your state may require an application, background checks, licensing and fire inspections, and certain training hours to be completed for a license to be issued. The best way to begin learning about the licensing process is to connect with your local resources. Two helpful resources for potential child care providers are:

  1. Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCR&R) – you can find your local CCR&R by accessing our CCR&R Search and doing a search by zip code.
  2. Your local or state child care licensing office – you can find out how to contact your local or state child care licensing office by visiting our State by State Resource Map and clicking on your state.

Your local CCR&R and licensing office will be the experts on child care licensing and resources where you live. They can tell you more about the process for becoming a licensed child care provider. They can also share information about available start-up grants, scholarships, or other funding opportunities for child care providers. CCR&Rs and licensing offices can typically provide information about where to get required training needed to obtain a license.

Are some programs exempt from licensing?

Yes, some programs may be exempt from licensing. However, the rules about exemption from licensing vary by state. To find out if your child care program is required to have a license, contact your local licensing office. Depending on the type of program, where and when it operates, and the number of children in care, you may be required to have a child care license. Even if you are exempt from licensing, it is important that you understand the licensing regulations within your state. They will provide you with critical information that you will need to operate your business.

What about licensing for Family Child Care Homes?

Each state has its own regulations about Family Child Care. Ask your state or local licensing representative or your CCR&R the following questions if you plan to open your own family child care home.

  1. Do I have to be licensed?
  2. How many children may I care for?
  3. Who do I contact to get licensed?
  4. Does my program have to be inspected?
  5. What other resources may be helpful to me in providing quality child care?
  6. Is there a fee to get licensed?
  7. Do I have to change my home to get licensed?
  8. Do I have to get any training?
  9. Do I have to have a background check? (Do others in my home need a background check?)
  10. What equipment and supplies do I have to have to get licensed?
  11. Do I have to offer any specific activities?
  12. Do I have to get a physical?