About Childcare Licensing in California

In California, whenever children under 5 years old are being cared for outside of their own homes, and their parent is not present, a childcare license is required (see exceptions). BPN doesn't accept posts about programs that are required to have a childcare license, but don't.

Who Needs a License?

About Childcare Licensing

About Licensed Daycares & Preschools

More Resources

Who Needs a License?

What kinds of programs need a license?

In California, whenever more than one child is being supervised in a place other than their own home, and their parents are not there, then that site is usually required to be licensed by the state.

  • For children under 5, nearly all types of programs need a license.

  • For school-aged children, programs "of an instructional nature" such as classes and camps, do not need to be licensed. However, after school childcare programs generally do need to be licensed.

The license ensures that the site is safe for children, that the caregiver has basic knowledge about child safety and health, and that all adults at the site have passed a background check. The State of California's Community Care Licensing (CCLD) is in charge of regulating childcare licenses. BPN supports licensing and does not accept posts about programs that should be licensed but aren't.

There are several types of CCLD licenses that apply to postings on BPN:

  1. "Family Child Care Home"   On BPN, these are called "Daycares" or "Home-Based Daycares" or "Home-Based Preschools." These programs are in the home of the childcare provider or teacher, and may accept all ages, from newborns to after-school K-5 care. There are two levels: Small (up to 8 children) and Large (up to 14 children).

  2. "Child Care Center (Preschool)"   These are preschools that have their own site that is not someone's home, and typically accept 2-5 year olds. They may be as small as a home-based daycare, or they might be quite large, accepting more than 100 children. Capacity depends on the individual site, staffing, and ages of children.

  3. "Child Care - Infant Center"  Often called a "Childcare Center" these programs have their own site and are licensed to care for a specific number of children between 0 and 24 months. They may also have an additional Preschool license for older kids.

  4. "School Aged Child Care Center"  These are after-school programs for children in Kindergarten and up. They may be licensed for a specific school, or they may have a separate facility that serves multiple schools. After-school programs staffed by a city or a school district are not required to be licensed. Childcare programs for school-aged children run by a Heritage School are not required to be licensed. After-school instructional classes are not required to be licensed.

Babysitters, Nannies & Nanny Shares

As long as the care takes place in the home of one of the children, and no one who lives at that home is providing supervision or care, then a CCLD license is not required.  However, if care takes place in the person's home who is providing the care, and there are children present from more than one other family, then this situation is considered a daycare and is required to be licensed.

Although the State does not license or regulate babysitters and nannies who come to your home, the State Legislature created Trustline, a database of nannies and babysitters who have cleared criminal background checks in California. Parents can check the database for no charge. There is a fee of $135-$170 for a nanny to register with Trustline. Nanny agencies are required to register their employees with Trustline. See the Trustline website for more information.

Outdoor Programs for Children Under 5 Years

Programs that take place exclusively outdoors, often called "forest schools," must be licensed if children under 5 are enrolled. These programs may be licensed as a preschool, childcare center, or home-based daycare. BPN does not accept posts about unlicensed programs for children under 5, whether indoors or outdoors.  See Forest Schools and Other Unlicensed Programs for Ages 0-5 for more information.

Playgroups, Exchanges, Shares, and Co-ops

  • Playgroups where every parent remains on site with their child the entire time do not need a license, regardless of where they take place or whether there is a fee.

  • Babysitting exchanges, where parents take turns caring for each others' children and no money changes hands, do not need a license.

  • Playgroups, co-ops and similar that take place in someone's home DO need to be licensed if: 1) someone is being paid, AND 2) an adult who lives there is providing some or all of the supervision. This means that if you host a co-op in your home that parents pay for, and you are responsible for some of the supervision or teaching, then this is considered a daycare and your home needs a site license from CCLD.

  • Playgroups, co-ops and similar that take place at a site that is not someone's home, such as a playground or other facility, DO need to be licensed unless every child's parent is present the entire time, or unless they are a type of program that doesn't need a license (see the next section).  CCLD regulations specifically address the adult-to-child ratio for co-ops that need a license.

For more information, see About Co-ops & Childcare Exchanges.

What kinds of programs do NOT need a license?

These programs do not need a license (check the regulations for details):

  • Nannies and babysitters who come to your home to care for your child.
  • Childcare you provide in your own home for only one other family besides your own.
  • Childcare provided by a relative (aunt, uncle, grandparent).
  • Parent co-ops where parents take turns babysitting and no money changes hands.
  • Playgroups and similar programs where every child's parent is present.
  • Programs run by a city, county, or school district that are staffed by their own employees.
  • Once-a-week programs that are 4 hours or less.
  • Some types of temporary childcare where parents are on site, such as a class.
  • Programs for school-aged children 5 and up during summer and school holidays "of an instructional nature."
  • Programs for teen parents and adult education programs.
  • Childcare programs for school-aged children that are run by a Heritage School.

Regulations can change so check the full regulations online on the State of California's website (updated July 2019):

About Childcare Licensing

What's a childcare license?

The State of California's Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) regulates child care in California as well as senior and disabled care, adoption agencies, shelters, and other facilities. Licensed childcare providers have completed classes on child safety and health. They have been fingerprinted and TB-tested, the site has passed an inspection, and they have paid a yearly fee. Childcare providers may also have a business license from their city or county, but this is separate from a childcare license.

It is illegal in California to operate an unlicensed home daycare or childcare center. There are fines of up to $200 for each day of unlicensed operation. Childcare facilities are required by law to display their license at their site, as well as on any advertisements or announcements they post about openings.

Why should I care whether my daycare or preschool has a license?

The purpose of childcare licensing is to protect children. The regulations ensure that anyone caring for your child meets basic standards, and that the site is safe for children. Parents are also given certain legal rights under these regulations.

Here are some of the benefits of licensed childcare:

  1. All childcare providers must take classes on child health and safety issues, including CPR and first aid.
  2. Fingerprints and child abuse and criminal record checks are required for all employees, volunteers, and any other adults who are present while children are being cared for. For home daycares, this includes other adults who live in the home or visit frequently. For co-ops this includes participating parents.
  3. Immunizations for flu, pertussis and measles are required for all employees and volunteers.
  4. An Emergency Care & Disaster Action Plan is required for the site.
  5. Yearly on-site inspections are required to check for safety issues such as covered heaters and fireplaces, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, ensuring hazardous materials are out of reach of children, and that outdoor play areas are safe.
  6. Periodic unannounced inspections are conducted by CCLD
  7. For childcare centers and preschools, site requirements include a specified amount of indoor and outdoor space based on the number of children. Toilet and sink facilities designed for children are required for older children, and diapering and napping facilities are specified for younger children.
  8. Directors of childcare centers and preschools must complete coursework in early childhood education.
  9. Parents can file a complaint about a facility, and a site inspection is required within 10 days after a complaint is filed.
  10. Parents can view any past violations or complaints about a licensed childcare facility.
  11. Providers must inform parents whether they have liability insurance.
  12. Providers must inform parents of their rights, such as the right to enter and inspect the site at any time.
  13. Adult-to-child ratios are regulated; the number of infants under two is restricted.


About Licensed Daycares & Preschools

What are the limits on the number of children in a daycare?

Capacity is displayed on the facility's license, which is required to be visible at the site. You can also find out the capacity in the searchable database on the CCLD website, or at the Regional office (see below for contact info.) Check the regulations above for any changes and for exact details, but as of this writing (2022), here are general guidelines:

  • Small Family Daycare (one adult care provider)
    • 4 children, all under 2 yrs 
    • 6 children, where 0-3 of them are under 2 yrs 
    • 8 children, if two or more of them are 6+ yrs AND only two babies under 2 yrs are being cared for when there are more than 6 children present.
  • Large Family Daycare (two adult care providers)
    • 12 children, where 0-4 of them are under 2 yrs 
    • 14 children, if two or more are 6+ yrs AND only three babies under 2 yrs are being cared for when there are more than 12 children present.
  • Childcare Center or Preschool 
    A center's capacity is determined for each individual center and depends on a number of factors such as available space, fire clearance, staffing, and ages of children. Check the facility's license to see what their capacity is. Adult-to-child ratios also vary depending on the age of the children, the qualifications of the adult, and the activity (such as field trips vs. naptime). Here are the default ratios, which can vary, so check the regulations here for details.
    • Infants (0-18 mos.): 1:3 adult-child ratio
    • Toddler Program (18-30 mos.): 1:6 adult-child ratio
    • Preschoolers (36 mos - kindergarten entry): 1:8 adult-child ratio
    • Parent Co-ops: 1:5 adult-child ratio
    • Schoolaged K - 14 yrs: 1:14 adult-child ratio

Mixed Ages: ratios are determined by the percentage of children at each age level (see regulations for details)

How can I file a complaint about a daycare or preschool?

To file a complaint regarding a state licensed child care facility, call : 1-844-LET US NO (1-844-538-8766) or email letusno [at] dss.ca.gov (letusno[at]dss[dot]ca[dot]gov)  You can report anonymously if you wish.

You can also contact the local Regional Office where the preschool or daycare is located.

I want to start a daycare at my home - what's involved?

For in-home care providers, the basic requirements are a 3-hour orientation and $25 application fee, followed by 15 hours of coursework on health and safety, fingerprinting and TB tests, and a home inspection. You'll need to child-proof your home (including smoke alarms, fire extinguisher, etc.). As of 2011, the yearly license fee is $66 for Small daycares and $127 for Large.

Bananas in Oakland offers help and support to people in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, or Piedmont who want to become child care providers. See Bananas' Child Care Licensing page for information about who needs a license, how to get a license, and assistance that they can provide.  In Contra Costa County, check CoCoKids for information about getting your license.

More information can be found at http://cdss.ca.gov.