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How to Start a Daycare in California

Learn more about what licenses are required to start a daycare center in California.

How to Start a Daycare in California

How to Start a Daycare in California

Starting a daycare business in California can be a lucrative endeavor. It’s a great way to turn your passion for working with children into a profitable business. Before you can get your daycare business off the ground and running smoothly, there are important steps you need to take to get the required licenses. 

Our guide covers the different types of licenses for childcare businesses in the state of California and provider requirements. We also discuss the steps to complete an application and how to stay compliant with licensing requirements.

Do I need a childcare license in California?

You need a childcare license in California if you provide care to children from multiple families. However, you are legally license-exempt and don’t need a childcare license if you provide care for only a relative's children or children from one other family in addition to your own.

Childcare licensing in California is managed by the Child Care Licensing Division (CCLD) of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). The department oversees childcare businesses in California, ensuring that they operate within the confines of state laws. The department's mission is to ensure that childcare providers abide by state health and safety standards set for daycare businesses. 

California approves two types of daycare licenses: Family Child Care Home Licenses for family childcare homes (FCHs) and Child Care Center Licenses for childcare centers (CCCs). You will need the Family Child Care Home License to start and operate a daycare in your home. A Child Care Center License is necessary if you plan to operate a facility in a commercial building. You may seek a California daycare license as an individual, group, or institution. 

Childcare licensing requirements in California

In addition to having a childcare business plan, you must also comply with state licensing requirements. The following are licensing requirements mandated by state law:

Family child care home provider requirements

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must live in the home
  • Must have a clear criminal record
  • Must have a TB test
  • Must complete 16 Pediatric Health and Safety training hours from an Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) approved vendor or accredited college/university
  • Must have proof of at least one year of experience as a small family childcare home licensee or a teacher or director of a licensed childcare center, for large family childcare home applicants

Family child care home capacity requirements

The following are the capacity regulations for small and large family child care home licenses:

  • Small family child care home capacity: Only four infants (0-24 months) or six children. The six children must not be more than three infants and three older children over 2 years old. Also, you can consider a home capacity of eight children. In this case, you must not have more than two infants and six older children, two of which must be school age children. Lastly, a landlord's consent and written parent notification are necessary when caring for more than six children.
  • Large family child care home capacity: Twelve children, including not more than four infants (0-24 months) and eight 2-year-old children. You’ll also need a qualified assistant, at least 14 years old. A large family child care home can also accommodate up to 14 children. This option requires no more than three infants (0-24 months) and 11 children over 2 years old. Lastly, you need a landlord's consent and written parent notification when caring for more than 12 children.

Childcare center provider requirements

The following are staff qualifications for childcare center providers:

Directors: 
  • Early childhood education, e.g., a degree in child development
  • Administration or staff relations training
  • Four years of teaching experience

Teachers:
  • Early childhood education training
  • At least six months of experience in a licensed childcare center

Aides:
  • Early childhood education training
  • High school diploma or ROP program enrollment at an accredited high school 

Childcare center capacity requirements

Below are the staff-to-child ratio requirements regarding infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children:

Infant ratios:
  • One teacher for four infants
  • One fully qualified teacher and two aides for 12 infants

Toddler ratios:
  • One teacher for six toddlers
  • One fully qualified teacher and one aide for 12 toddlers

Preschool ratios:
  • One teacher for 12 children
  • One teacher and one aide for 15 children
  • One fully qualified teacher and one aide for 18 children

School-age ratios:
  • One teacher for 14 children
  • One fully qualified teacher and one aide for 28 children

Childcare license application in California

Below are the steps to take when applying for the Family Child Care Home License or Child Care Center License in California.

For a comprehensive review of California daycare regulation rules, check out Child Care Provider Registration and the California Child Day Care Act.

Step 1: Attend a childcare licensing orientation

The first step is to attend an online or in-person childcare licensing orientation. Depending on what type of childcare business you are starting, attend the Family Child Care Home License orientation or the Child Care Center License orientation

The orientation is crucial for introducing you to the requirements of starting and operating a daycare business in California. You’re also required to pay a non-refundable orientation fee. It’s recommended that you meet the minimum threshold for a Family Child Care Home or Child Care Center license application before signing up for the orientation.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with licensing laws and regulations

Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the relevant family child care home licensing or child care center licensing laws and regulations. In particular, you should acquaint yourself with the  health and safety codes:


Step 3: Complete and submit your application

The next step is to complete and submit your application package. Depending on which type of license you will need, complete the Family Child Care Home License application or the Child Care Center License application.

The Family Child Care Home License application requires you to fill out six forms:
  • Application for a Family Child Care Home License 
  • Current Children in Your Home 
  • Criminal Record Statements for all adults living in the home
  • Emergency Care and Disaster Plan
  • Statement Acknowledging Requirement to Report Suspected Child Abuse
  • Facility Sketch

You’re also required to submit the following in addition to filling out the necessary forms: 
  • Proof of completing the orientation 
  • Proof of completing or enrollment in Preventive Health Practices training 
  • Proof of childcare experience 
  • Proof of TB clearance (not more than one year old) for all adults living in your home 
  • Payment (check or money order) for the nonrefundable application fee

The Child Care Center License application requires you to fill out 15 forms:
  • Application For Child Care Center License
  • Applicant Information
  • Criminal Record Statement
  • Designation Of Facility Responsibility
  • Administrative Organization
  • Monthly Operating Statements
  • Balance Sheet
  • Financial Information Release and Verification 
  • Personnel Report
  • Personnel Record
  • Health Screening Report–Facility Personnel 
  • Emergency Disaster Plan
  • Earthquake Preparedness Checklist
  • Facility Sketch
  • Local Fire Inspection Authority Information

You must also include the following documentation with your application:
  • Partnership Agreement, Articles of Incorporation, or Articles of Organization, depending on what applies to your business
  • Verification of director qualifications such as transcripts from an accredited school/college and reference letters confirming required experience
  • Job descriptions for every position at your daycare center
  • Personnel policies
  • Parent handbook
  • Daily activities schedule
  • Enrollment agreement
  • Staff training plan
  • Sample menu
  • List of furniture and play equipment
  • Control of property such as proof of ownership or copy of lease or rental agreement
  • Bacteriological analysis of private water supply (if applicable)

Below is a quick rundown of California’s family child care home and child care center fees.

Family child care home licensing fees

  • Orientation fee: $25
  • One-time application fee: $73 for small family child care homes and $140 for large family child care homes
  • Yearly licensing fee: $73 for small family child care homes and $140 for large family child care homes

Child care center licensing fees

  • Orientation fee: $50
  • One-time application fee: This fee varies between $484 and $2,420 based on capacity
  • Yearly licensing fee: 50% of the one-time application fee, which varies depending on capacity

Step 4: Pre-licensing inspection for family child care home license

Lastly, you’ll need to prepare for a pre-licensing inspection if you apply for a family child care home license. A licensing program analyst will reach out to you after you’ve completed and submitted your application package. They’ll be checking for the overall cleanliness of the home, working fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and telephones, proper storage of hazardous materials, and more. Here is a full list of the requirements for the inspection. 

Step 5: Await approval

The entire application process takes between 60 and 90 days.

How to stay compliant with daycare licensing requirements in California

After you’ve secured a license to start and operate a daycare business in California, you will need to renew your operating license annually to remain compliant. Submit your license renewal payment before your facility’s anniversary date via online payment, money order, or check. You’re liable for a late payment fee if you don't submit your annual fee on time. Late fees include an extra 50% of the annual license renewal fee. You are also required to pay a $25 fee if you change your facility’s capacity or 50% of the application fee if you move to a different location.

Start a daycare business in California

Obtaining a daycare license is a crucial first step in operating a daycare business in California. Depending on the details of your daycare business, you can apply for a family child care home license if you plan to run your business at home, or a child care center license if you plan to operate in a commercial building. With careful planning and preparation, you can navigate all of California’s licensing requirements and start focusing on the next stage of your business.

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