teacher with two toddlers snack

The first step to choosing a child care provider is determining whether potential providers have a license from your state or local government. Licensing does not guarantee quality; however, it sets minimum requirements and ensures that programs are monitored for compliance with these requirements.

Child care licensing regulations cover many topics, including the following:

  • The number of children one adult can care for a time (child-staff ratio) and the number of children allowed in a class (group size)

  • Supervision of children

  • Safety of the building (such as emergency exits, cleanliness and repairs, and potential dangers)

  • Immunizations, handwashing, diapering, and other methods to stop the spread of disease

  • Nutrition of food served to children

  • Training, health, and other requirements for the adults working at the child care program

Child care licensing requirements vary from state to state. The National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations includes contact information and websites for state licensing departments. You can choose your state and view, download, and search the child care licensing regulations that apply to child care centers, family child care homes, and other licensed child care programs. The National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations is available at https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/licensing.

You can also contact the government agency responsible for child care licensing to find out whether a provider has a license and view the provider’s licensing record. Most states include records of child care licensing inspections in the search results for each provider. States without records available on the web can give you this information over the phone or at the agency office.

Providers Exempt from Licensing

Most states allow some child care providers to be exempt from child care licensing laws. Often these providers are relatives of the children they care for, care for a very small number of children, or operate only a few hours a day. Your state licensing agency can provide information about which types of providers are exempt from licensing in your state. Providers who are exempt from licensing still need to meet health and safety requirements if any of the children they care for receive federal child care financial assistance.