What Is Child Care Licensing?

Child care licensing standards set the minimum acceptable health, safety and program standards for the legal operation of programs required to be licensed. Licensed care, or in some states, 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.

There are two basic types of licensed child care: child care centers and family child care homes. Some states choose not to license or regulate all child care settings.

What Is Covered in 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.

Your program will be inspected by licensing staff and fire and health inspectors to ensure that your program meets the minimum state standards. Some states conduct an inspection before you can open for business. Announced and unannounced visits can occur during business operating hours.

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.

Additional Resources

  • Your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency may offer training for providers who want to open their own child care business. Find your CCR&R by contacting Child Care Aware toll-free at 1(800) 424-2246.
  • Child Care Aware’s State by State Resource Map provides you with direct links to the office in your state that is responsible for child care licensing as well as other resources that may be helpful in providing quality child care. You can obtain a copy of your state’s licensing regulations from your state licensing office, and your local licensing specialist may also be able to give you support. Check with your state licensing agency to see if your child care center or family child care home needs to be licensed. If the state does not require your family child care home to be licensed, your county may still require you to register or to be certified.
  • The National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance maintains an up-to-date database of the Individual State Licensing Agencies Requirements.

Top 12 Questions to Ask About Family Child Care Licensing in Your State

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