Girl eating and smilingChild care centers are usually located in commercial buildings. Centers are larger and care for more children than family child care providers. They are usually divided into groups or classrooms of similarly aged children.

Child care centers typically have many staff members who are overseen by a director. They may be privately operated for profit by chains or individual owners, or operated by nonprofit agencies such as churches, public schools, and government agencies.

All states have regulations for licensed centers, but not all child care centers are licensed. The question of whether a child care center is required to be licensed or is license exempt depends on the requirements in your state. Licensed centers are required to follow a set of basic health and safety requirements, and they are monitored to make sure they are following the requirements.

Some examples of center-based programs that may not be required to be licensed include the following:

  • Early childhood programs operated by schools

  • School-age before-and afterschool programs

  • Summer camps

  • Faith-based programs, including Parent’s Day Out programs

  • Part-time programs, including some nursery schools, preschools and prekindergarten programs

States have a child care search which can help you determine if the providers you are considering are licensed. You can search for detailed information about providers in your state and find more information about your state’s child care requirements by using the search feature of this website. Just click this link, See Your State's Resources, select your state under “Get Child Care Resources.” You will then see a variety of links to state specific information including “Inspection Reports” and “Child Care Regulations” information for your state.

Tips for Choosing This Type of Care

  • When visiting a child care center, ask to see a copy of the program’s license, registration or certification, and inspection history.

  • Many states post inspection reports online. Use See Your State's Resources feature on this website to see inspection reports of child care providers you are considering. These reports provide valuable information about the quality of child care programs. Check them before you select a program and regularly while your child is enrolled.

  • Confirm that every adult working or volunteering in the program has had a comprehensive background check.

  • Ask how many adults and children are in each classroom and about the teachers’ education and training. Make sure that every teacher has had training on important health and safety topics such as first aid and CPR, safe sleep, giving children medication, and child development. Learn more about the 12 health and safety trainings that all adults caring for children should have.

  • Find out whether your child’s teacher has an early childhood credential or degree and how long he or she has been working in the early childhood field.

  • Ask about the program’s staff turnover rate (how frequently staff leave). If a program experiences a large amount of turnover, your child could experience many transitions to new teachers. A high turnover rate could also mean that there are issues that could affect the quality of the program.

  • Ask what curriculum is used. Also ask the provider to explain the types of daily activities planned for the children, and how those activities will support your child’s learning.

  • Make sure that the provider’s policies and opinions on discipline, supervision, safe sleep, nutrition, child development, and learning align with what you want for your child.

  • Ask about information and activities provided for parents. Ask if the program provides opportunities for parents to learn about how their children are doing or talk about their children’s progress.

  • Get a copy of the provider’s policies and contract. These documents should cover important topics, including hours of operation, rates, fees, field trip permission slips, transportation agreements, and absence policies. Read more about recommended items that should be included in a child care contract.

  • Print a list of questions and things to look for that you can take with you when visiting a potential child care program.

Why Families Choose This Type of Care

Many families choose child care centers because of the more structured, classroom-like environment. Families may like that their children are cared for in groups with other children the same age. They may also appreciate the greater number of adults present in the building. Families often like child care centers because of the larger groups of children present and the variety of equipment, supplies, and activities.