Starting a daycare business is not only a rewarding career in early childhood education but also necessary to support working families.
The first step to becoming a childcare business owner is having a passion for early childhood education. However, before you can open for business, it is necessary to obtain the appropriate licenses and certifications.
Although a master's degree in education isn't required to open a childcare center, each state requires some combination of licensing and certification to start a childcare center. Let's review some of the certifications you might need to be eligible for a license.
Certifications to open a daycare
Some states require daycare directors to have a bachelor's degree in child development, social work, education, or a related field. Other states require a minimum of a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED). This requirement applies to both in-home daycare and commercial daycare centers.
Many parents prefer to send their children to childcare centers with highly trained and educated workers—so it's essential to have a degree, even if your state doesn’t require it.
It’s also imperative for all your employees to have the proper credentials, training, and degrees. Educational certifications will reassure prospective families that your daycare center staff will provide optimal childcare service.
First aid and CPR certification
Most states will require a percentage of daycare staff to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. The skills and experience acquired from getting the CPR certification will help you feel more confident in providing emergency assistance to a child in need of it.
Childcare service facilities fall under the general industry and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) category. According to OSHA requirements, daycare workers must be certified in CPR and first aid. Since you will be working with infants and toddlers, pursuing pediatric-specific CPR instructions is beneficial. There are a lot of ways to get your certifications. You can take classes with the American Red Cross, hospitals, community health centers, fire departments, and community colleges.
Food handler certification
Many daycare center employees handle food frequently. As a result, certification may be necessary, especially if you want financial assistance from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
To be eligible for CACFP funding, you must show that the meals and snacks you offer meet the federal government's nutritional standards.
Some states mandate family childcare homes and institutions to get a food license. Preparing food can often mean simple tasks such as slicing vegetables or fruits. Check your local requirements to see if even the most basic food-prep activities necessitate licensure.
Family childcare home license
A family childcare home license is required to help control some aspects of childcare. For example, this license may restrict the facility's security, the number of children you can admit, immunization requirements, hygiene standards, dietary recommendations, supervisory expectations, and training.
There are specific licensing requirements in each state. You can use the National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations to research your state's regulations.
General business license
Any small business must acquire a general business license in most states. This will seem more like an application process, and a fee may be involved in obtaining the permit. However, this process provides necessary information regarding the business you're opening.
What are the requirements to open a daycare center?
Each state's requirement differs for licensing. But here are general guidelines:
- Contact local inspectors for sanitation, building, fire, and zoning codes.
- Next, arrange for inspectors to survey your facility. The inspectors ensure you meet all the requirements.
- You and your team might also need to pass training to become licensed and commit to continual classes. For example, Idaho requires caregivers to complete four hours of training every 12 months.
In addition, there are other requirements you must meet, such as:
Health and safety requirements
As a childcare provider, you’re not just responsible for helping children reach developmental milestones but also for keeping them out of harm's way. Childcare centers must adhere to health and safety rules before getting licenses.
Some state laws usually require facilities to exclude children and adults from the childcare setting if they have infectious diseases. For example, Texas requires childcare facilities to exclude adults or children with fever or diarrhea.
In most daycares, there must be at least one toilet and sink for every 15 children. Most of this will depend on your state directives.
Other amenities required include adequate lighting, a gated play area, ventilation, plumbing, eating and food preparation rooms, and heating and air conditioning. Additional emergency procedure requirements require facilities to conduct fire drills, have fire extinguishers and first aid kits, and prepare evacuation plans.
Daycare facilities require plenty of space for children to run around and explore safely. Although measurements may differ from state to state, each child needs a specific number of square feet. These spaces are necessary both outdoors and indoors.
For example, in Florida, each child must have at least 20 square feet of floor space in the building. This includes the classroom, play area, work area, and nap area. In addition, each child in any group who uses the outdoor area must have 45 square feet. Furthermore, you must surround these spaces with a secure fence that meets local government requirements.
In California, licensed childcare centers must have at least 75 square feet of outdoor activity space per child and 35 square feet of indoor space.
Oklahoma has space requirements of 75 square feet per child, and outdoor spaces must have a fence at least four feet high, with at least one emergency exit. While the children are outside, the gates to the outside play area must be closed.
Low child-to-staff ratios and small group sizes ensure that your child receives adequate one-on-one attention from an adult available to meet each child's specific needs. Responsive caregiving is critical to every child's social and emotional development, physical health, and overall learning.
This one-on-one attention makes children feel safe and secure while reducing overwhelming feelings in both children and staff members. It’s easier to manage a smaller group with enough trained staff present. Children will be less likely to get injured or hurt because staff can better monitor and respond to a smaller group.
Most states demand a certain number of teachers in the classroom for a certain number of children. The child-to-staff ratio varies depending on the age of the children.
The following are general recommendations:
- Infant (<12 mos): one trained adult for every 3-4 infants
- Young toddler (1-2 yrs): one trained adult for every 3-6 young toddlers
- Older toddler (2-3 yrs): one trained adult for every 4–6 older toddlers
- Preschooler (3–5 years): one trained adult for every 6–10 preschoolers
Review your state's specific requirements for child-to-staff ratios and group sizes.
Another requirement for obtaining your license includes getting insured. For example, to operate a daycare center in some states, you must obtain liability insurance before getting licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The DHHS doesn’t require insurance for home-based daycare centers to be licensed. However, those who start daycare centers at home should consider getting small business insurance. When running your own business, you always incur the danger of a lawsuit, but that risk increases when caring for other people's children. Therefore, protect yourself whenever possible.
Daycare businesses are protected by various insurance policies, including general liability insurance, workers' compensation insurance, property insurance, abuse and molestation insurance, and others. Consult with an insurance broker to find the best coverage for your business.
What certifications do I need to open a home daycare?
Certification requirements for home daycare are similar to childcare centers in that they vary from state to state. The certification required to get a family childcare license in Alabama, Texas, California, and Illinois, for instance, includes a minimum of a high school diploma or GED equivalent. In contrast, this isn't necessary for Kansas, but they must have completed certified first aid, CPR, and childcare-related training.
Certain states may require a home daycare center to be licensed. They may be required to provide proof of immunizations, pass a background check, complete some basic training, and obtain CPR certification to get a license. The licensing process varies by state. Some states' licensing can be fully completed quickly through an online portal, while other states' licensing processes take two to three months.
Apart from educational requirements, there are other criteria for getting a family daycare license, which varies by state. For example, In California, licensed childcare centers must have 75 square feet of outdoor activity space and at least 35 square feet of indoor space per child. In Illinois, the state requires a minimum of 35 square feet of floor space for each child in care, plus an additional 20 square feet for each child under 30 months of age when the play area is also the sleeping area. At the same time, there is no minimum square footage requirement for family daycare homes in some states, such as Florida.
In addition, there is a lot of paperwork to file with the state licensing body. It's worth noting that different states have different terms for home daycare. It's known as Family Child Care (FCC) in many states.
Criteria for opening a home daycare
Municipal business licensing
An aspiring daycare owner may be required to obtain a business license depending on the city or town where the in-home daycare business will be located. This license is distinct from a daycare license and simply grants the holder the right to conduct business in the jurisdiction. Contacting a local department of licenses and inspections or a business registration office can help an aspiring in-home daycare owner determine whether a business license is required.
Zoning is critical no matter where you live. A potential in-home daycare owner sometimes needs special permission to run a business out of the residence. For example, if they are a renter, they may need written permission from the property owner to run a daycare out of the home. In addition, some jurisdictions may require a daycare business owner to obtain special approval to run a business in a residential area. Individuals may contact the local zoning board to determine whether they need special support.
Each state maintains a list of standards that childcare providers must follow. These standards generally include information about providing a safe environment for children. A state's standards, for example, may specify the number of children an in-home daycare business can accept at one time and the caregiver-to-child ratio the owner must maintain.
Furthermore, in-home childcare businesses must comply with the state's policies, record-keeping requirements, and hiring of childcare workers. You can obtain in-home daycare standards from the department in charge of daycare licensing in one's state or by visiting the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies website.
Business liability insurance
Some states advise or require childcare providers to obtain liability insurance to cover injuries, accidents, and property damage. In addition, an in-home daycare business owner may need business auto insurance if they are transporting children in a vehicle.
Eligibility criteria and checks
Each state has requirements for people who want to start in-home daycare businesses. For example, many states require in-home daycare owners to be 18 years old and have no felony convictions or arrests for child abuse.
Many states also require prospective home daycare business owners to submit the results of a health exam to prove that they’re free of diseases that could endanger young children.
Daycare inspections and licensing
Many states require in-home childcare providers to obtain daycare licenses. Most people who want to start an in-home daycare business contact the local child welfare department or a similar agency and request a home daycare information packet. An aspiring daycare owner typically attends a licensing orientation and completes a daycare license application after reading the information packet.
As part of the application process in many places, a person must also submit the results of medical records, child abuse clearances, and criminal record checks. In addition, inspections of the daycare home location may also be included as part of the licensing process in some jurisdictions, or the business owner may be required to agree to spot inspections.
For example, many states require in-home daycare businesses to obtain licenses to provide daycare. However, in California, if you only plan to care for your children, a relative's children, and one other family, this doesn't require a license.
After reading this article, you should know what certifications you need. It's important to remember that regulations vary by state and, in some cases, by cities within a state. Determine what your local governments need and begin working on obtaining the necessary certifications to open a daycare in your desired location. To learn more about the training, experience, and credentials required to operate a daycare facility legally, contact your state's Division of Child Care Services (or its equivalent).
We wish you the best of luck as you explore starting your own daycare program. Make sure to download our free list of supplies you need to run a successful early education program!