A Parent's Guide to Child Care Regulations

Child care licensing protects your little one and ensures that they grow and flourish in a healthy environment. If a child care program is licensed, you can feel fully confident that the program meets the safety requirements outlined by your state. Occasionally, child care programs may be license-exempt and still operate safely by being registered with your state.

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How Child Care Licensing Ensures Quality and Safety

Licensing regulations usually require child care providers to maintain a safe building, follow sanitation protocols, and conduct background checks on all staff. Each state also sets its own requirements for how many providers at licensed child care facilities must be trained in CPR and first aid. States also set maximum staff-to-child ratios and the number of children that can be enrolled in a child care program.


A Closer Look at Licensed Child Care

Definition and Characteristics

A licensed child care facility meets all state government regulations. No matter your location, a valid license indicates that a child care facility fulfills all its health, safety, and training requirements.

The Licensing Process

The details of getting a child care license vary by location, but all child care programs must complete the following steps.

  • First aid, CPR, health, and safety training are required.

  • Background checks conducted on all staff members.

  • The child care building  passes a safety inspection.

To maintain licensure a program must be evaluated or reapply on a regular basis, so you can check to make sure their license is fully up to date.

Assurance for Parents

Peace of mind is priceless, and parents can rest easy when their child is with a licensed child care provider. If issues do arise, parents can file complaints about licensed facilities at the state or local level, and these complaints will be investigated.

Staffing, Ratios, and Facilities

State regulations ensure your child gets the care they need every day in a safe space.

  • Staff-to-child ratios dictate how many providers must be present for a certain number of children so your little one gets adequate supervision. Child care facilities with lower staff-to-child ratios mean that each child gets more individual attention.

  • All CPR-certified staff members must undergo training specifically in pediatric CPR.

  • Child care program staff members will also need to undergo health and safety training on a regular basis after their facility becomes licensed. Training may cover safe sleep practices, medication administration, and emergency preparedness.

  • The child care facility must meet building codes, such as fire safety.


License-Exempt Child Care: Understanding the Differences

License Exemptions

There are some exceptions through which child care programs can operate legally without a license. In some cases, license-exempt programs may be regulated by other government bodies. For instance, some commercial child care centers can operate as license-exempt if the program is run by a public school, falls under a religious affiliation, or receives accreditation through a national organization.

License-Exempt Care and Regulations

Family daycares can be run without a license if located in a state that makes exceptions for providers with a very small group of children. If a provider is related to children in their care, their family daycare center may also qualify as license-exempt. Exempt programs must still meet basic safety standards, undergo first aid and CPR training, and conduct background checks.

Choosing License-Exempt Care

If a license-exempt care provider is conveniently located with great recommendations, don’t count it out. Instead, get as detailed as you can when talking to potential providers, and inquire if they are operating as a registered provider within your state. While there are different protocols associated with registration, this can give you peace of mind that the provider is a known child care option and is operating within legal bounds. To further confirm, you can ask for proof of their legal exemption and whether you can see their first aid certification. See if you can observe a typical day at the facility as well.


Identifying and Understanding Illegal Child Care

What Is Illegal Child Care?

A child care facility is operating illegally if it lacks a license but doesn’t qualify for license exemption. If a provider is caught operating an illegal facility, they may be subject to fines and other penalties.

Risks of Unlicensed Care

Without a license or an approved license-exemption, there’s no way to confirm that a child care facility has met basic health and safety requirements. Illegal child care puts children at risk for injury or illness since safety and sanitation protocols may not be followed.

Reporting Illegal Child Care

If you suspect an illegal operation, you can report it. The regulatory body you file a report with will vary by state. Some states allow you to report illegal child care by simply calling 311.


Advocating for Your Child’s Safety and Rights

Safeguarding your child’s wellbeing begins with regular conversations with your child care provider. If your gut is telling you something is off, communication is the first step to fixing it. However, if your provider doesn’t address something that may be in violation of their licensing, contact your local officials and ask them to investigate.


Empowering Parents with Knowledge and Tools for Safe Choices

Child care licenses are an important piece of the puzzle when making an informed decision. Licensure tells you that you can trust the program’s health and safety procedures.

Reviewing child care center licensing regulations by state will equip you with the information you need. Licensure is just the start, though — if you have more questions for potential providers, add them to your child care checklist.


Find Trusted Child Care Near You

With Wonderschool’s child care finder, you can conveniently view all the licensed care options in your area. Discover the best program for your family today, and explore professionally created resources to guide and nurture every aspect of your child’s care. Wonderschool makes it easier than ever to find facilities that are both licensed and a perfect fit for your needs, leaving you in great hands.

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