Start a Child Care Program
Caring for children and helping them learn and grow through the most important developmental years can be an incredibly rewarding profession. In Wisconsin, your journey to becoming an early childhood educator begins with what we call the Pre-Licensing Process.
On this page:
When do I need to get licensed?
Wisconsin regulation states, “Anyone providing care and supervision for four or more children, under age 7 years, for less than 24 hours a day must be licensed by the Department of Children and Families.” View exceptions
Entry-Level Training Requirements
View the required trainings for people entering the field of child care
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Steps to Starting a Licensed Program
An overview of the steps needed to become a licensed child care provider
Which type of program is right for you?
The first step to becoming licensed is deciding which type of regulated child care program is right for you. The pre-licensing process looks different whether you are opening a family or group child care program.
Certified Family Child Care: Certification is a voluntary form of regulation for individuals who care for 1 to 3 children under age 7. A certified family provider can care for a maximum of 6 children, with no more than 3 under the age of 7.
Licensed Family Child Care: A licensed family provider can care for a maximum of 4 to 8 children, depending on the children's ages. This care is usually offered inside the child care provider’s home. Children of all ages can be cared for in the same space.
How to become a family child care provider
Licensed Group Child Care: Group child care programs care for 9 or more children. Their maximum size is determined by the space available in the care environment. This care usually takes place in a commercial building specifically used for child care. Children typically stay in one classroom with consistent classmates and teachers/care providers and transition to new developmentally appropriate classrooms as they grow older. At all times, staff must maintain staff-to-child ratios and maximum group sizes based on the age of the children.
How to open a group child care center
Still not sure? Attend an Info Session to learn about the different types of child care, the steps to get started, and tips to successfully become a licensed provider.
Contact your local CCR&R (Child Care Resource & Referral Agency) for dates of upcoming Info Sessions in your area.
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1. Review the Licensing Info Packet
The Licensing Info Packet is now available free online! Go to the packet on DCF's website
This packet contains all the necessary materials, forms, and resources to help you begin planning for your child care business. Please review the packet in its entirety before moving to the next step of the pre-licensing process.
2. Submit a Start-Up Worksheet
Complete a virtual Child Care Business Start-Up Worksheet (mail-in option below)
3. Receive Pre-Licensing assistance
Based on your Start-Up Worksheet, SFTA will assign a Pre-Licensing Technical Consultant (usually called a "TC") to provide support as you prepare to meet the licensing requirements of opening a child care program. Your TC will -- free of charge -- provide assistance regarding licensing rules and procedures, written policies, and environments.
During this Pre-Licensing process, you are required to receive one policy review from your TC, and one site visit to the location of your proposed child care program. Otherwise, assistance is typically conducted via phone or email. Providers opening a group program can receive up to 8 total hours of free technical assistance; providers opening a family program can receive up to 6 free hours. You can receive additional hours for an hourly fee.
If you need you can still mail the PDF worksheet to Supporting Families Together Association.
Only submit one worksheet, either virtually or by mail.
Mail: You can mail a completed form to:
Supporting Families Together Association
700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 6
Madison, WI 53711