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Daycare license requirements guide from A to Z

Daycare license requirements guide from A to Z

By Matt Crawford
Feb 16, 2022
7 min read
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If you love working with children, a daycare business is a logical choice. Daycares are as different as the children you care for, and home daycare license and insurance requirements will be different than those of a commercial center.

The daycare license requirements you need to start a business vary greatly from state to state. From Alaska with 181 daycare businesses and Wyoming with 232 all the way to California with 8,248 child daycare businesses, each state has diverse child daycare licensing and family daycare licensing requirements.

What education and training do childcare professionals need?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), childcare workers need a high school diploma or the equivalent to work in a daycare center. Childcare workers can receive short-term on-the-job training. Although the job openings for childcare workers are expected to grow slowly between now and 2028, the BLS projects that preschool and childcare center directors will be in higher demand, growing at about 7%.

Preschool and daycare center directors need a bachelor's degree and on-the-job experience in early childhood education. They can also get a national credential, the CDA (Child Development Associate) credential.

What daycare licensing requirements do most states have in common?

Childcare.gov provides information for parents and daycare providers. While child daycare licensing for different sizes and types of daycare businesses are different across the country, each state has basic requirements for a daycare license, including:

  • Supervision of children: Maximum number of children per childcare worker, maximum number of children per facility and per administrator or supervisor.
  • Building safety: Emergency exits, repairs, safety and cleanliness.
  • Health safety: Child immunizations, diapering for younger children, hand washing and sanitation.
  • Food and nutrition: Food quality, storage and nutritional standards.
  • Training and education: Minimum levels for licensed facilities.

As the state with the largest number of child daycare facilities and children enrolled in them, California's requirements for child daycare licensing are among the nation's most detailed. 

California offers online orientation for getting a daycare center license. Depending on the ages of children served, center directors must meet different requirements. All center directors must have completed 12 core semester units of early college education and development, and three-semester units of education in Administration or Staff relations.

In addition, directors must have four years of experience teaching in childcare centers for their age group (under age five, or school-aged children). A bachelor's degree isn't required to be a center director in California, but a degree will allow directors to run a center with as little as one year of teaching experience.

Childcare teachers in California centers with a daycare license must also complete at least six units of early childhood education and have supervised experience working with children in their age group. Aides can start working in daycare programs under supervision with at least two units of early childhood education, as long as they're enrolled in a continuing education program.

Childcare providers in California must be registered in the state and complete a background check that includes fingerprints and a "LiveScan" for criminal records. Other requirements include fire safety plans, evacuation plans, and maximum center capacity.

In California, family daycare is exempt from licensing requirements. A family daycare license isn't required, but a home daycare license is if you care for even one child who isn't a family member and accept payment.

Family daycare refers specifically to family members who are caring for at least one relative regularly in their home. Family daycare homes can't take payment for child care services, and are limited to no more than 12 related children at a time. 

Most daycare facilities in the majority of states are licensed based upon the following factors:

  • Age of children (zero to five, school-aged)
  • Number of children served
  • Type of daycare (home-based vs. community facility)
Daycare License Requirements

How many children can one adult care for at a time?

Childcare.gov provides information about best practices in center and class size by age. State requirements vary, but in general, different age groups require different ratios of teacher and aide to children. The following guidelines cover best practices:

  • Infants (zero to 12 months): One trained adult for three to four infants
  • Young toddler (one to two years): One trained adult for three to six young toddlers
  • Older toddler (two to three years): One trained adult for four to six older toddlers
  • Preschool (three to five years): One trained adult to no more than six to 10 preschoolers
  • School-aged (five and up): One trained adult to no more than 10 to 12 school-aged children

Some centers do not accept children younger than three years because of the special requirements of diapering and feeding very young children. Educational programs like Montessori or private schools may start children when they are potty-trained and can safely drink liquids without choking if they are younger than three.

Which health and safety training is required?

Basic federal health and safety requirements cover all states. According to Childcare.gov, all adults who are taking care of children at a daycare center need to have training in:

  • Pediatric first aid and CPR
  • Infectious disease prevention (handwashing to immunizations)
  • Safe sleeping practices and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Recognition and prevention of child abuse and neglect
  • Indoor and outdoor basic safety
  • Food allergy prevention and emergency response
  • Emergency preparedness for natural disasters
  • Child development, physical activity, and nutrition

Can you operate a daycare without a license?

You will be violating the law in the majority of states if you accept payment for taking care of unrelated children in your home on a regular basis without a daycare license. Occasional babysitting isn't considered under most state daycare regulations.

In California, programs operating without a daycare license can be fined up to $200 a day. 

What insurance is required for daycare businesses?

Each state will have its own requirements for business insurance, and you may find additional requirements for coverage from your city and county. If you've met all of your requirements for licensing in your state, daycare insurance will be available for you. After you've done everything you need to be licensed, daycare marketing ideas can help to build your business. Running a daycare is challenging but incredibly rewarding when you see children learn and grow every day.

NEXT offers easy and affordable coverage for daycare operators

Daycare business insurance from NEXT Insurance is changing the game. We’re a one-stop shop that covers all the essentials, including general liability and workers' comp

Our daycare insurance policies and costs are customizable, allowing your coverage to grow with your business.

You can handle all your insurance needs, from getting a quote to filing claims, entirely online. Most transactions take less than 10 minutes. You can access your certificate of insurance online, anytime.

Get your free instant quote today.

Daycare license requirements guide from A to Z

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About the author
Matt Crawford leads NEXT's content team. He's a small business insurance specialist and has worked with business owners throughout his career as a community journalist and content marketer. You can find him at one of his many favorite local restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area when he's not at work.
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