Starting a Child Care Center

In the State of California there are two types of child care licenses, (a) Family Child Care Home License for people who work in their own homes caring for children and (b) Child Care Center License for those who wish to provide child care services in an out-of-home setting. The entity seeking a Center License can be an individual, a group of people, a corporation or an institution.

You must apply for a license if you want to:

  • Open up a new center or preschool (part or full day)
  • Purchase an existing center – the license is not transferable
  • Move your program to a new site – both you and your site are licensed
  • Continue to operate a program after a change in the legal status of the licensee

Once you obtain a license you must apply for a change in the license if you:

  • Want to expand the number of children you care for
  • Extend the hours of operation
  • Change the age range of the children for whom you are currently licensed

Who issues a child care center license?

The Agency that issues licenses in the State of California is the Community Care Licensing Office of the State Department of Social Services (DSS) The local DSS licensing office is located at:

Community Care Licensing

1515 Clay Street Suite 1102 (Between 14th and 15th, on Clay) Oakland, CA 94607 Phone: 510-622-2602 Fax: 510-622-2641

The regulations used in licensing are taken from the California Code of Regulations, Title 22, division 6. You may obtain a copy of the regulations by calling DSS at the above number. Remember it takes time to obtain a center license. Give yourself a minimum of six months from start to finish.

STEP 1: Go to a DSS orientation meeting

These meetings are usually held once a month. To sign up for the Orientation go to Bay Area Regional Office, Oakland. Scroll through the months to find the month and date for the Center Orientation you wish to take. The information is usually at the top of the page for that month and there are two classes. The $50.00 fee is for the Orientation class, the other class is free. Next, scroll down to page 18 and you will find the Child Care Center Orientation Pre-Registration form. Print it, fill it out and send it with the $50.00 fee to:

Community Care Licensing

1515 Clay Street Suite 1102 Oakland, CA 94607

The Orientation meeting will give you an overview of the process. If you are uncertain about your plans at this time, the information presented at the orientation can help you make a decision.

Remember you don’t need a site to attend an orientation.

At the meeting you will receive an application and a sample budget. You will need to complete and return the questionnaire to the DSS office in order to obtain an application packet. The assigned Licensing Program Analyst (LPA) for your geographic area will review your questionnaire and mail you an application packet, provided the information on the form is complete, and you have identified both a location and a qualified director. It usually takes around 3 weeks to obtain an application packet after you turn in the questionnaire.

STEP 2: Begin your search for a site

Real Estate Agents, Churches, and Community Centers are a good place to start. There is no point in seeking your license until you have found a site which will meet, or which you can afford to renovate to meet, the licensing requirements. The process of finding a suitable site is probably the most time consuming and frustrating of all. Although there are other requirements, the two basic things to remember are that child care is usually restricted to the first floor of a building (or a fire resistive building or automatic sprinklers will be required ) and that you need 35 square feet of usable space per child indoors, and 75 square feet of outdoor space per child.

STEP 3: Identify a qualified director for your program

You don’t need to actually hire a person at this point but you need to be able to identify that person in order to receive an application packet and go forward with the licensing process. You will need that person’s transcripts, course descriptions and written verification of experience.

If you plan to operate a profit making or not-for-profit corporation, start the incorporation process now. Information on the filing process and fees are available from the Secretary of State, 1230 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

STEP 4: Obtain a “Use Permit”

Apply to your local City Planning Department for a “Use Permit”. This process requires that you appear before the Planning Commission with drawings of the facility, showing entrance and exits, facilities for parking, etc.

At the same time begin the application process for a business license to the City in which your program will be located, and begin shopping for Insurance (fire, liability and theft). If you have decided to incorporate, continue to move through that process while you are doing everything else. Be available if the Fire Marshal wants to inspect your facility before you finish the “Use Permit” process.

Once you have completed this process move to step 5. If you fail to receive a “Use Permit” due to community resistance or if you are required to make changes to your facility before the permit can be issued (add more off- street parking, build a fence, plant bushes as a sound barrier, etc.), gear yourself up to complete these hurdles before moving on to the next step.

STEP 5: Obtain a fire clearance

Once your file is opened with DSS, that office will notify the local Fire Marshal to inspect your site. The Marshal may call and make an appointment to visit the facility while you are in the midst of the “Use Permit” process.

Note: Obtaining a “Use Permit” does not guarantee that you will receive a fire clearance and vice versa.

These two steps deal with different aspects of your facility and both must be completed before you move to the next step.

When the Fire Marshal inspects your site, he/she will inform you of any necessary alterations. The Marshal will return to re-inspect if changes are needed, which they frequently are. When you are through with this process you will get a clearance for your file and the report will be sent to the local DSS office. You must pass this hurdle – denial of a fire clearance means a denial of a license.

If your facility received a fire clearance and you are finished with the “Use Permit” process, move triumphantly on to the next step. If you need to make alterations or renovations to get the clearance, grit your teeth and make the changes. (Remember to obtain any building permits required by your city/town before starting work.) Then get approval from the Fire Marshal before moving on to the next step.

STEP 6: Open a file with DSS.

Complete the Section A forms in the DSS Application booklet, complete Live Scan background checks, child abuse index forms, and physical check-up for each person named as an applicant for your director, and for any other staff you have already identified. Complete the sketches of the facility. Check carefully that you have filled out each section of each form and turn in the application. Once you turn in everything required in Section A, DSS will open your file and the Licensing Program Analyst assigned to you will review your paperwork, answer any questions you may have, and make an appointment to visit your facility. The Analyst will also request a fire inspection from the local Fire Marshal and forward the fingerprints you turned in to Sacramento for clearance. Note your finished application should be legible, and neat and if possible, typed.

STEP 7: Complete the process

After you have turned in your completed application, your Analyst will make an appointment to inspect your facility and review its safety features and furnishings. The Analyst will also check the square footage of the indoor and outdoor space to determine exactly how many children you will be licensed to care for. When the Analyst arrives the center MUST be ready to receive the first child, with enough equipment and supplies in place to accommodate the number of children the program wants to serve. Some of these things will include, but are not limited to:

  • Sufficient cots or sleeping mats
  • A “Cubby” for each child to hold hats/coats/belongings
  • A file for each child
  • A fully stocked first aid kit
  • All staff paperwork completed
  • A sample menu posted (for snacks or any meals served)
  • Sample of the daily schedule
  • A locked container to hold all cleaning materials
  • Emergency Escape Plan and Parents rights posted
  • Refrigerator to house milk/juice and snacks

You must pass this test to receive a license. If you have to make any changes you will be informed both verbally and on the written “Report of Field Visit”. Additional visits will be scheduled if corrections or changes are required.

Finally if you have not already done so, finish turning in all the Section B documents to DSS. Check with your Analyst that your application is now complete.

A license will be issued once all the following steps are finalized:

  • Section A & B Forms are submitted and approved
  • Your facility has a fire clearance on file with DSS
  • You have a qualified director
  • Fingerprint clearances for the applicants and the director are on file at DSS Office. (Remember, you must have clearances for all staff before they begin working with children)
  • The facility building and grounds have been inspected and approved by DSS staff

If everything is in order the Analyst will refer your file to the DSS supervisor for a final review. If anything is missing from the file the Analyst will contact you to supply those items. Remember there is no set time period in which DSS must finish processing a completed application. Wait a reasonable amount of time, around 2 weeks, after completing all the required steps, and then check with your Analyst to ensure your license is “in the works”.

Now stop and wait for your license to arrive from DSS before you begin caring for children.

In the meantime:

  • Begin interviewing and hiring the remainder of your staff.
  • Finalize your liability insurance plans, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Plan to advertise your program once you have your license number by designing and printing flyers to distribute in the neighborhood. All advertising must include your facility license number.

Once you have your license, call your local R&R to set up a site visit and get included in their referral files.

In Contra Costa County the numbers are:

Central Area Office: 925-676-5437
East/Far East Area Office: 925-778-5437
West Area Office: 510-758-5439