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California family child care licensing: Qualifying for a large license

If you want to start an in-home preschool or daycare in California, you might have heard you need a license to do so.

And you might have also heard that the license will either be a small license or a large license. These two licenses differ in their maximum student capacities and, in the big picture, their earning potential.


There’s a lot to think about when starting your own business. And the information out there on California family child care licensing requirements is buried in 80-page documents written in jargon-dense legalese.

So here we’re going to break it down. We’ll explain the differences between a small and large license and how you can know if you qualify for one over the other.

California preschool licensing: What is a family child care (FCC) license?

The state of California supports opportunities for individuals to be able to provide child care out of their own homes. However, the process is highly regulated – for the benefit of everyone involved.

Little Seedlings Preschool in LA

The California Community Care Licensing Department (CCLD) is the regulatory body that oversees the licensing process for home-based (and center-based) Family Child Care (FCC) (aka the official terminology for running an in-home preschool or daycare).

You will need a license to operate your in-home preschool unless you are:

  • Only caring for up to 3 children from one other family besides your own;
  • In a non-payment based exchange arrangement caring for up to 12 children; or
  • Related to the children under your care.

Just to repeat that in the inverse: you need a license if you care for children from more than one family and who are not related to you.

If you operate without one, you are subject to fines and, potentially, criminal charges. (#NotWorthIt)

The family child care licensing process is in place to ensure that people who care for children in their homes have passed a criminal record background check, have the appropriate state-required health immunizations, and have received CPR, first aid, and preventive health training, and that their home is safe for young children in case of fire or other emergencies.

Defining the Types of Family Child Care Licenses in California

There are two types of FCC licenses: small and large.

Small and large licenses differ in how many children you can care for in your home. In a small licensed school, you can supervise 4 infants (where infants are defined as children under 24 months old); or up to 6 children if no more than 3 of them are infants; or 8 children if no more than 2 are infants and at least 2 of them are at least six years old. That’s a mouthful but all in all, you max out at 8 children in your school, including your own children if they are under 10 years old.

In a large licensed school, you can supervise up to 12 children if no more than 4 are infants; or 14 children if no more than 3 are infants and at least 2 children are six years old. Here you max out at 14 children in your school, again including your own children if they are under 10 years old – a sizable increase in capacity from the small license.

Do note that in both large and small licensed FCCs, your own children will be included in the count if they are under 10 years old.

Reading a book in Little Kurls Family Child Care in San Francisco

To qualify for a large license

  • Your home must pass a fire safety clearance from a fire marshal;
  • You must employ an assistant of at least 14 years old at all times when more than 6 children are in your care;
  • You must have at least one year of experience operating under a small licensed FCC or teaching in a child care center. You can prove you have this experience with letters of reference on company letterhead or a resume with the contact information of people who can verify your experience. Each region is a little bit different and it will be explained in your family child care licensing orientation;
  • And lastly, you might have to obtain a business license and zoning permit if your city or county requires it (to find out if they do, check your city and county websites for more information);

You don’t have to meet the abovementioned requirements to qualify for the small license.

You can run a small licensed FCC in almost any type of home including an apartment, condo, or single-family home. However, we do recommend that you have at least 35 square feet of space per child in your home and significant outdoor space available (either a large backyard or proximity to a park, ideally within 4 blocks) if you’re registering for a small license.

In both cases, small and large, you must pass a home inspection from the California Community Care Licensing Department. This inspection is called the pre-licensing inspection. During the inspection, an analyst from CCLD will be evaluating whether your home has been child-proofed, that you have the appropriate safety precautions in place (fire alarm, smoke alarm, fire extinguisher), and that you have materials and equipment available for children (age-appropriate toys, cots or cribs, child toilet or changing table, etc.). You can use this self-assessment guide to make sure you are prepared for the inspection.

Comparing the Small v Large License for Family Child Care

Getting a large license can be both more complicated and more time consuming than getting a small license. But it might be worth it for the increase in earning potential you get with the large license due to taking on more children. You can nearly double the tuition with your only extra cost being an assistant teacher or two.

Blowing bubbles at Little Me Preschool in San Francisco

One common strategy is to start with a small license and transition to a large license later. For example, if you are planning to move before starting your preschool, financially it might make more sense to move somewhere that qualifies for a large license so you at least have the option of earning more later on.

You might also want to start small and transition later on if you don’t have a year of teaching experience yet.

On the other hand, if you have your own children who will be a part of the school, it may be more difficult to be profitable with the small license. Then again, you won’t have to pay for child care so it may be more sensible than enrolling your child in child care and going to work elsewhere.

In the end, you should choose the preschool license that works best for you and your family. It’s true that you can offset startup costs and take home more money with the large license. But of course that’s not everyone’s goal. If you have any questions at all, shoot us an email at [email protected].

Determine If Your Home Qualifies for a Large License

For your home to qualify for a large license, it must be in a building with three detached sides and two separate exits to the street. The second exit (meaning the one besides the front door) cannot go through the kitchen (or near a stove). It also cannot go through the garage.

Usually in a multi-story home, the school must be on the first “usable/livable” floor. If someone lives below the floor that is intended for the FCC, there must be a sprinkler system on that floor. A sprinkler system is essentially cost prohibitive so you rarely see this installed.

Single family homes can generally qualify for a large license since they often have a front entry, a back entry to a backyard, and then a gate exit from the backyard to the street. Homes that are on the first floor of an apartment building that have a backyard and then a breezeway to the street may also qualify.

You can use our handy decision tree below or our brief quiz to determine if your home meets the California preschool licensing requirements for a large license.

The final determination as to whether your home qualifies for a large license or not will depend on the fire marshal’s inspection. And unfortunately, we have seen that opinion/personal interpretation can play a big role in the decision-making process here.

This can be frustrating if you’re planning on moving to a new home with the intention of turning it into a family child care and you want to know before you move. The good news is you may be able to get a pre-inspection from the fire department. We’ve only seen pre-inspections available in the Bay Area so far, but we hope to see this service expand in the future as more and more teachers start their own in-home preschools.


Michelle is a freelance writer and content marketing strategist, and content creator for Wonderschool. When she taught preschool in Thailand, her students' favorite word in English was "Octopus!"