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When Do you Need a Childcare License?

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State laws require you to obtain a child-care license in certain circumstances, which vary depending on where you live and whether you provide care in your home or in a building dedicated to your child-care business. If you work from home, the professional advantages of meeting minimum child-care standards are worth considering even if your state doesn't mandate licensing for small, home-based programs. If you want to grow your business, you may need a license before you can advertise your services, for example. Parents also tend to place more confidence in providers who stay up to date with child development and first aid training.

Licensing Basics

Federal law mandates that states develop and administer child-care standards that protect children from contagious diseases, ensure a safe child-care environment and require adequate provider training in health and safety, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. In implementing these general guidelines, state licensing agencies are at liberty to interpret and apply them differently, resulting in a lack of uniformity in state guidelines. An Alabama resident needs a license to open a home-based day care, for example, while peers in New Jersey and Louisiana are monitored on a voluntary basis only.

Child-Care Centers

Every state requires profit-based child-care centers to be licensed and monitored, although licensing standards vary widely. Regulations regarding background checks, education requirements, training hours and frequency of program inspections, for example, range from minimal to extensive, depending on where you live. If you plan to operate a child-care program in a building other than your home, you need a license to operate a child-care center.

Family Child-Care Homes

While child-care centers typically provide care for more than 12 children, large family child-care homes generally have an enrollment threshold of up to 12 children and most small family child-care homes provide care for up to six children, although this varies by state. Family child-care services are provided in the primary provider's home. In 13 areas, including Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the Department of Defense, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, you need a license to provide care for just one unrelated child. Other states don't begin monitoring family child-care homes until three, four, seven or, in the case of South Dakota, as many as 12 children, are enrolled.


If you provide care for family members such as grandchildren, nieces or nephews, you don't need a child-care license. Exemptions also apply to providers in tax-exempt church-sponsored child-care programs. If you provide care for children for less than four hours a day or if you provide care in the child's home, a license isn't necessary. Contact your state's child-care licensing agency to request a copy of child-care standards specific to your state. The National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center provides agency contact information by state on its website.


Pam Murphy is a writer specializing in fitness, childcare and business-related topics. She is a member of the National Association for Family Child Care and contributes to various websites. Murphy is a licensed childcare professional and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of West Georgia.