Pennsylvania Child Care EducationWho is a Child Care Provider?

A Child Care provider is a person, group, or institution that cares for children between the ages of 0-15 years with whom they are not related, for any period of time.      

Child Care providers play an important role in the early development and education of children. There is a high demand for their services from parents across the United States who needs responsible caregivers to watch over their children while they are away.    

Pennsylvania’s laws require that daycare providers be licensed by relevant state departments to operate within its territory. Licensing allows the State to enforce best practices and safety standards for the children to be cared for in those facilities and for the staff that runs them.     

Licensing rules may differ slightly depending on the type of daycare facility being set up. Caregivers need to know what kind of Child Care service they will be operating so that they can determine what rules apply to them.   

 Types of Child Care Facilities

Some caregivers are either affiliated with or sponsored by other institutions, such as workplaces and religious places of worship. A large number are independent organizations, which are either run from the founder’s home or operate in commercial property, i.e., not the founder’s home address. 

Child Care facilities are typically divided into the following groups:

  1. In-home family care
  2. Group Child Care
  3. Center-based Child Care

These different caregiving models are explained below.

In-Home Family Care

This refers to a Child Care business that is operated in the provider’s home and caters to children who are not related to the provider. An in-home family caregiver should also meet these conditions:

  • They should be located in a single-family or two-family residence
  • The facility will be operated by the homeowner or a tenant with authorization by the owner.
  • Only one staff member is required to run a family Child Care home
  • The caregiver caters to between 4 and 6 children. Exceptions may allow them to care for up to 12. However, there is a much lower limit for the numbers they can take in certain areas. For instance, the 6th, 9th, and 10th city councils of Philadelphia only permit home family care to take on a maximum of 4 children.
  • The caregiver can tend to any number of children who are their relatives within their facility, in addition to the non-relatives mentioned above. A ‘relative’ in this context refers to the providers’ child, grandchild, stepchild, or foster child.
  • In-home family care is preferred by parents who want their children to be cared for in a homely environment.

Group Child Care

In the Group Child Care model, care is provided for between 7 and 12 children who are not related to the operator, in a location that is not the operator’s home. Special exemptions may be obtained, which allow the provider to run the Group Child Care business in a residential building.

There are a few other things to note about Group Child Care:

  • Group care may also be allowed to operate in commercial properties.
  • Some districts, e.g., Districts 6, 9, and 10 of Philadelphia, limit Group Child Care from taking on more than six children that are non-relatives of the operator.
  • Pennsylvania’s staff to child ratio for Group Child Care is 1:4 if the children are a year old or less, and 1:5 if they are between 1 and 2 years old. Children aged 2-3 will require a ratio of 1:6; if they are older than 3, the ratio will be 1:10. When the ages are mixed, the age of the youngest child determines the ratio to be adopted.   Centers-based Child Care

A Child Care Center caters to 13 or more children in a commercial property. These centers also tend to have more staff than the other Child Care units.

  • Pennsylvania law requires that staff at Center Based Child Care facilities be older than 18, and trained in CPR, fire safety, and first aid. Volunteers at the center should be at least 16 years old and be directly supervised always.
  • The staff to child ratio for children 0-1-year-old is 1:4. It is 1:5 for 1-2-year-olds, and 1:6 for 2-3-year-olds, with a maximum of 12 children. Note that groups of children aged between 3 and the time they will be getting into kindergarten should have not more than 20 individuals.

Initial Steps to Take: Budgeting and Finance

Persons intending to set up a Child Care business will want to be certain that they have the resources to begin. They can start by doing the following:

  • Drawing up a list of things they will need to run a Child Care facility from the beginning.
  • Drafting a preliminary budget based on the cost of items listed.
  • Considering the financing sources available to them.

There will be spending on more items than just the bare minimum required to start up. Operators will have to cover the costs of running the business on a daily basis before it generates enough to sustain itself.

Startup costs include expenses on classroom, office, and playground equipment, licensing and application fees, utility connections, staff training, land property tax, and insurance. Operational expenses include rent or mortgage, payroll, equipment replacement, and utilities. Prospective Child Care providers may cover some of these initial costs through their savings, small business loans, or other financing options.

The Licensing Process

As explained earlier, each type of Child Care organization has to undertake a different licensing or registration process. Accordingly, the steps to getting a license will be discussed under each type of Child Care recognized by the laws of Pennsylvania that concern it.

Note: the licensing process for group Child Care is similar to the procedure for in-home family care. They differ in the sense that the group Child Care facility may have to obtain a certificate of occupancy if they are operating in a non-residential building. Family Child Care businesses do not require this.

Licensing Process for In-Home Family Care

These are the steps to obtaining a license to operate as an In-Home Family Care business.

1. Obtain Local Business Licenses

Prospective in-home Child Care businesses are advised to inquire from their local municipality what business licenses and IDs they need to obtain to run their business in the area. They should get these items as soon as they can.

2. Contact Regional OECDL Office

The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) is an arm of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services which regulates early learning institutions in the State. Anyone looking to set up an in-home Child Care facility should get in touch with an OCDEL office in their area to find out about the following:

  • Completing an online and face-to-face orientation training (group and center-based Child Care institutions will need to undergo both).
  • Information about the Child Care regulations that concern the specific kind of provider.

The orientation training will help would-be applicants for a Family Child Care license understand how to fill their applications, the health and safety regulations they must meet, and the documents they should have.

3. Schedule Fire Safety Inspection

The State of Pennsylvania requires Child Care facilities to undergo fire safety screening. Intending caregivers are expected to have written plans for fire safety in place; they can contact their local fire department for guidance on drawing one up.

The would-be Child Care provider should also ask for a schedule an inspection of their residence by a local county fire inspector. They can prepare for the inspection by studying and implementing the fire safety inspection guidelines from residential buildings in their city or region.

If the facility passes the fire safety test, the provider will be issued with a certificate of compliance. Fire inspections will continue to be carried out on an annual basis.

4. Prepare for an Environmental Health Inspection

This inspection should be scheduled with the local Health Department. The inspection will determine whether the proposed location of the in-home family care provider meets the health standards for such a service as prescribed by the State.  A location housing a Child Care facility should be free of lead paint. Indoor temperatures should be at least 65⁰F. If it exceeds 85⁰F, mechanical ventilation equipment like standing fans and window fans may have to be installed. The outdoor play area should be free from objects that may harm children.

5. Submit Licensure Survey Form to Day Care Licensing Office

Next, the prospective caregiver is expected to complete a licensure survey form and submit it to their local childcare licensing office. They will then be assigned a counselor who will provide them with details about background screening for their staff, and the documents they need for the licensure process.

6. Get Background Checks Done

Background checks need to be obtained for anyone above 18 who lives or works in the home for more than 30 days in a calendar year. These checks include:

  • State police criminal record check, available the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History.
  • Child abuse history clearance, accessible at the Child Welfare Portal.
  • FBI Fingerprint background checks (call 1-877-371-5422 to find out more)
  • There are specific charges attached to these checks.

7. Ensure that All Trainings Have Been Completed

In-home family care providers should ascertain from the director of their programs that they have completed the training that they are required to go through.

Note that a license will only be issued to an applicant if they have met all the conditions for licensure.

Licensing Process for Center Based Child Care

These are the steps to registering a center-based Child Care businesss.

1. Obtain Local Business Licenses

Local municipalities may require businesses to get a special license to operate in their area. Child Care facilities operating in commercial districts should find out what the proper licenses are for their area, and work to obtain them.

2. Confirm Zoning Approval for Location

Confirmation should be sought from zoning authorities that a center-based Child Care facility can be sited in the area.

3.Make Sure the Building Meets Building Code Requirements

The building will have to meet the building code requirements of the area in which it is situated. A building permit should be requested if there will be any new construction work at the site (including renovation). An application for a permit can be submitted to the municipal authorities concerned, along with a plan for the structure to be constructed.

If the plan is approved, the construction work may commence.

When the construction or renovation is completed, it will be inspected by certified code officials to ascertain that it co

The business can apply for a certificate of compliance (license) from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. They will be issued this certificate if they meet all the conditions for operating a commercial daycare center, as outlined by the State’s laws.


The city of Philadelphia, Guide for Child Care Providers (PDF)

Child Care Regulations, Chapter 3270; Child Day Care Centers (PDF)

Basic Steps for Opening a Child Care Facility (PDF)

Pennsylvania Facility Rules and Regulations

Pennsylvania Child Care Laws-Public Health Law Center