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.

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

Steps to Starting a Licensed Program

An overview of the steps needed to become a licensed child care provider

Entry-Level Training Requirements

View the required trainings for people entering the field of child care

Background Check Requirements

All child care providers are required to pass a background check

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.


Wisconsin child care certification


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

Family child care provider FAQs


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 and the number of staff members. 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

What to look for in a child care center location

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.

All Info Sessions are currently taking place online via Zoom. A link will be emailed to you after you register.

2021 Info Sessions dates:

January 11; March 8 (entire Session in Spanish); May 10; July 12; September 13; November 8

Learn more & register          Aprende más y regístrase (en Español)

Browse all resources

Visit our Resource Center for more pre-licensing resources, including licensing checklists
for family and group programs, training requirements, and much more.

Go to Resource Center

Get started!

1.  Request a Licensing Info Packet

Your Info Packet will include a licensing rule book, suggested procedures for starting a program, a start-up worksheet, and other information necessary to begin the start-up process.

To request a licensing Info Packet, print and complete this form, then mail it with a cashiers check or money order for $25 (payable to the Department of Children and Families), to:

Department of Children and Families
2187 North Stevens Street, Suite C
Rhinelander, WI 54501


2.  Return the Start-Up Worksheet

Complete the Child Care Business Start-Up Worksheet included in your Info Packet, and mail it to:

Supporting Families Together Association
700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 6
Madison, WI 53711


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 technical assistance; providers opening a family program can receive up to 6 hours.