When searching for child care, we encourage parents to choose quality, state licensed child care programs. A child care license is important because it holds child care programs to certain standards for health and safety.

What is a child care license?

A child care license is different than a business license. When a child care program has a state license, it means that they have met the state’s standards for operating a child care program. Those standards include health and safety procedures like safe infant sleep practices, teacher to child ratios, hand-washing, emergency preparedness plans, and cleaning and disinfecting materials and surfaces. Staff in licensed programs will have had to pass certain background checks. They also must receive training on health and safety topics and other areas related to child care. Most licensed child care programs are required to meet these guidelines. However, it is still important to verify that your selected provider has met these requirements.

Who licenses child care programs?

Each state has a child care licensing office. Licensors in each state assist new child care programs with the licensing process. The licensing office also ensures that new child care programs have met the state’s initial requirements to care for children.

Once a child care program is licensed, it will then receive regular, unannounced licensing inspections. State, regional or local licensors conduct these visits, although the frequency of inspections varies by state. Licensing inspections are conducted to ensure that a program continues to meet the requirements for a legally-operating child care program in your state. Your licensing office can tell you how often child care programs in your state are inspected.

How does a program become licensed?

Many states have similar steps in their licensing process. Potential child care providers must complete an application for a child care license, and all required adults must undergo certain background checks, according to what is required by the state. The program typically must receive an inspection to prove that they meet child care licensing standards. Some states require certain training hours or certifications to be completed before a provider can receive their license. To learn more about how a child care provider becomes licensed in your state, contact your state licensing office.

Do all child care programs need a license to be legally operating?

Some child care programs are not required to have a license.

  • Child Care Centers are usually required to be licensed in every state. However, child care programs with a religious affiliation (such as a center or preschool run by a church or temple) may not always be required to have a license.
  • Family Child Care Homes may or may not be required to obtain a license, depending on the size of the program.
  • Some School-Age Programs are not required to have a license for child care if they are operated on school grounds by school personnel.

Click the links above to read more about licensing for each type of care.

You may ask a child care program to see their state license. States typically require providers to post their license in a visible location. To find out if a program is required to be licensed, contact your state licensing office.

What are the benefits to choosing licensed child care?

Your state regulates and monitors licensed programs. Licensed child care programs must meet standards developed specifically to keep children healthy and safe in care. Actual child care regulations vary by state, but most state licensing requirements cover the following topics:

  • Education and ongoing training requirements for staff who work in a child care program
  • Background checks
  • Ratio of children to staff (how many children the program can safely care for)
  • Physical environment of the program
  • Health and safety measures to prevent injury and sickness
  • Management of the program

How do I contact my state’s licensing office?

To verify a child care provider’s license or to learn more about licensing requirements in your state, contact your state licensing office. You can find licensing websites and contact information by clicking your state on our State by State Resource Map.

One more thing!

After you’ve verified that a child care provider has a license, you should still take the time to evaluate their quality! Remember that a child care license means that a program meets the minimum standards for legally-operating child care. A quality child care program will go above and beyond licensing requirements.

Our State by State Resource Map can help you find licensing inspection reports in your state, and you can also learn if your state has a quality rating system for child care programs. In addition, be sure to visit our Selecting a Child Care Program page for information on what to look for in quality child care.