Most states have requirements about minimum education and experience qualifications for child care providers. They also have ratio requirements (the number of child care staff required for a specific number of children). This number is based on the ages of the children. This ratio will tell you how many providers are required for each group of children.

Provider Qualifications

Minimum qualifications for child care staff vary by state, so check with your state licensing agency. These requirements usually include:

  • Minimum age, usually 18 years
  • Education level, usually a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Initial and ongoing training

You may want your child care staff to have additional qualifications. Child Care Aware® of America recommends that all family child care providers and child care center staff have at least 40 hours of initial training, including Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), first aid and other basic safety and health training, in addition to information about child development before they work with children. Child Care Aware® of America also recommends that all providers complete 24 hours of annual training.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is a nationally accepted early childhood credential awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition. It shows that a person has a specific amount of training hours and experience working with young children. The credential is earned by individual providers working in both child care centers and family child care programs. It is not a credential for the entire program.

A CDA candidate must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Hold a high school diploma or General Educational Development diploma (GED)
  • Have 480 hours of experience working with children within the past five years
  • Have 120 clock hours of formal child care education within the past five years. The 120 clock hours must include at least 10 hours in each of the following eight content areas:
    • Planning a safe, healthy learning environment
    • Steps to advance children’s physical and intellectual development
    • Positive ways to support children’s social and emotional development
    • Strategies to establish productive relationships with families
    • Strategies to manage an effective program operation
    • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
    • Observing and recording children’s behavior
    • Principles of child growth and development

The credential must be renewed every three years. For more information, contact the Council for Professional Recognition.

Number of Providers You Need

The minimum number of providers you will need depends on the ages and number of children in your program. Your state licensing regulations have very specific information about the following factors:

  • Requirements about staff to child ratios (number of staff needed for a specific number of children)
  • The number of usable square feet in your center or home. This will tell you the number of children you can have in your program.
  • Requirements about group sizes (maximum number of children allowed in a group/classroom)

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation criteria recommends you use the following ratios for child care centers:

Age of Child Staff-Child Ratio
Birth to 15 months 1:3 to 1:4
12 to 28 months 1:3 to 1:4
21 to 36 months 1:4 to 1:6
2 to 3 years 1:6 to 1:9
4 years 1:8 to 1:10
5 years 1:8 to 1:10

NAEYC accreditation criteria also recommend you follow the group sizes listed below for child care centers. Group size consists of two ratio groups of children (meaning at least two providers should be present for each group) based on the age of the children. Additional information about NAEYC recommendations is available here.

Age of Child Size of Group
Birth to 15 months 6-8 children
12 to 28 months 6-8 children
21 to 36 months 8-12 children
2 to 3 years 12-18 children
4 years 16-20 children
5 years 16-20 children

Additional child care staff: You must have enough qualified providers to be able to replace your regular providers when they are unavailable during breaks or meal times or are absent due to illness or vacation. If you are a family child care provider, you will need a qualified substitute provider to come to your home or a qualified backup provider home where parents can take their children when you cannot provide care.

Some child care centers need staff for additional services. These services may include administration, training, cooking, housekeeping and transportation. These services are usually performed by staff you employ, but you may want to contract with other businesses to perform the work. Most family child care providers do not employ staff to perform these services, but you may choose to. Check with your licensing agency for any specific requirements for contract staff.

Additional Information from First Children’s Finance