Running your own daycare center can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But before you can sign up your first family, you need to take the proper steps to make your child care dream a legitimate business.
If you’re looking to start your own child care center, one of the first things you may need to do is get a daycare license. It’s an important part of your daycare’s business plan since it shows parents and the community that your business is credible and trustworthy.
Every state has its own rules about who needs to obtain a license and what their daycare licensing process looks like. Make sure you check with your state’s child care licensing agency to learn about their specific requirements. Depending on factors like the size of your operation and the types of services you’ll be providing, you may not even have to go through the licensing process. Read up on your local licensing requirements before beginning the application process.
Tip! Find your state’s child care license rules at the National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations. Keep in mind that licensing requirements change all the time due to things like provider feedback, industry trends, and updates to state and federal legislation.
Common child care licensing factors
Every child care center is different. Some operations only look after infants or toddlers, while others exclusively take care of preschool-aged kids. Some offer additional educational opportunities and others stick to basic child care. All of these factors (and many others) will play a part in the type of licensing and accreditation you need to apply for.
Before anything else, you will need to decide whether you’re going to provide child care in your own home or if you’re going to operate out of a child care facility. This is one of the first decisions you need to make since your operating location will dictate the rest of the licensing process.
Your state may have different child care operation types, but in general, providers are split into two different categories: center-based providers and home-based providers. Once you have decided where you will operate, you can more easily figure out the rest of your operation.
Some common licensing factors you’ll come across in most states include:
- How many kids one adult can care for at a given time. This is often referred to as the child-staff ratio or class group size. Keeping the ratio low allows for better and more attentive care from the staff to the children while they’re in your care.
- The safety of your home or property. Whether you're operating out of your own home or out of a separate building, you need to make sure the physical space is safe for children to play in. If your state requires a safety inspection to get your license, the inspector will check things like emergency exits, working fire alarms, or potential dangers.
- Any “extras” you’re offering. If you want to offer additional services like after-school care or classes for parents to take on the weekends, that may change your license process. Pre-K education and cooking/serving food at your center may also require additional paperwork.
Do I need a license for my daycare?
In most cases, if you’re providing child care services, you will need to get a license before opening. However, there are two common child care situations that are exempt from licensing: if you are providing child care for family members or if you are a babysitter.
Those two situations are usually focused only on overseeing a child’s safety, while child care centers are more involved in a child’s educational, social, physical, and mental development. Since these services require trained and background-checked employees, a dedicated child care environment, and a daily schedule and curriculum, the licensing process helps ensure high-quality child care for families.
Each state has its own rules and regulations about child care licensing, so check with your state to see if your operation type is exempt from this process. Keep in mind that if your state requires you to have a valid child care license and you do NOT get it before opening, you may face fines and other legal repercussions.
Commons steps to get your daycare license
Getting your child care license can be a lengthy process. Depending on what state you’re applying for a license in, you will most likely have to go through several certification steps before your application is approved. Even though it can take a while to go through every step, each requirement is there to make sure you will provide a safe environment for every child that is put in your care. Some of the most common requirements and steps you’ll find in almost every state include:
- Previous degree or equivalent education. Some states require specific educational backgrounds or equivalent training in order to hold a daycare license. Many require or recommend daycare center directors to have at least an associate degree in early childhood education or a similar degree before starting their own child care business.
- Credentials & training. Your state may require previous child care credentials as well as completing training courses before you can get your daycare license. CDA credentials (child development associate) are a common requirement for heads of daycare facilities. This ensures the license holder has previous child care experience. CPR and first aid training may also be required for directors and care workers.
- Background checks. Most states require you and your staff to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks before your license is approved. This shows the state and prospective parents that children in your care are being looked after by people with a clean background.
- Home or property inspection. Whether you’re operating your daycare center in your home or on an off-site property, you will most likely need to pass a building inspection so you’re compliant with safety, zoning, and health regulations. Your inspector may require you to make some updates to your property like installing child-safe locks on a medicine cabinet before granting you your license.
Getting licensed is just the beginning of your journey in providing safe and nurturing early education to our youngest learners. The process itself may require patience and persistence—but at the end of the day, your center will become better because of it. You’ll learn priceless information on how to be a better child care provider and how to turn your center into a nurturing, happy, and educational environment for every child in your care.
Additional reading for starting your own daycare center
To learn more about how to effectively start a childcare or daycare business, check out these additional resources:
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