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How to Start a Daycare in Illinois

Discover all you need to know with this complete guide on how to start a daycare business in Illinois.

How to Start a Daycare in Illinois

How to Start a Daycare in Illinois

Starting a daycare business can be fulfilling work, especially if you have a passion for working with children. Before venturing into the childcare business in Illinois, you’ll need an understanding of the licensing requirements and standards to open a home-based or center-based program. 

Our guide covers the different types of childcare licenses in Illinois, the application process, and how to stay compliant. Read on to learn more.

Do I need a childcare license in Illinois?

Before starting a daycare center, you will need to understand and comply with the licensing regulations in your particular state. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) regulates childcare licensing in Illinois. According to state guidelines, you must have a childcare license in Illinois to care for more than three unrelated children under age 12, including your own children. However, you may be license-exempt if you only care for:

  • Three or fewer children under the age of 13, including your own children; or
  • Children from the same household; or
  • Children related to you

The IDCFS issues licenses for three types of daycare operations: daycare centers, daycare homes, and group daycare homes. 

  • Daycare centers provide childcare services to eight or more children in a home-based setting or three or more children in a center-based environment for less than 24 hours daily.
  • Daycare homes provide childcare services to 3 to 12 children in a home-based setting for less than 24 hours daily.
  • Group daycare homes provide childcare services to 3 to 16 children in a home-based setting for less than 24 hours.

Childcare licensing requirements in Illinois

According to the Illinois childcare resource service, there is no fee to obtain a childcare license in Illinois. You must meet the below requirements regardless of the type of daycare center you intend to operate:

  • Provide a safe and healthy childcare environment
  • Must be age 18 years of age or older
  • Must have a passion for working with children
  • Must be knowledgeable in children’s physical and emotional needs
  • Must be trained in CPR and first aid
  • Must pass a background check and be fingerprinted

Let’s now take a look at the specific licensing requirements for the three types of childcare facilities:

Daycare Center requirements

Staff qualifications

Childcare director qualifications 
  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate (GED)
  • Must complete 60 semesters or 90 quarter hours of credit from an accredited college or university with 18 semesters or 27 quarter hours in courses related directly to child care and child development
  • Must have two years of child development experience in a nursery school, kindergarten, or licensed day care center; 30 semesters or 45 quarter hours of college credits with ten semesters or 15 quarter hours in courses related directly to child care and child development; and proof of enrollment in an accredited college or university
  • Must complete a training program accredited by the American Montessori Society
  • Must complete a basic training course of six or more clock hours on providing care to children with disabilities

Early childhood teacher and school-age worker qualifications
  • Must be at least 19 years old
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate (GED)
  • Must complete 60 semester hours of credits from an accredited college or university with six semesters or nine quarter hours in courses related directly to child care and child development
  • Must have one year of child development experience in a nursery school or kindergarten
  • Must complete a training program accredited by the American Montessori Society

Early childhood assistant and school-age assistant qualifications
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate (GED)

Student and youth aide qualifications
  • Must be age 14 or older and at least 5 years older than the oldest child in the facility

Substitute qualifications
  • Must have similar professional qualifications to those required of staff they’re substituting for

Volunteer qualifications
  • Must have a health report

Staff to child ratio

Age

Staff to child ratio

Maximum group size

Infants (6 weeks - 14 months)

1:4

12

Toddlers (15 through 23 months)

1:5

15

2 years

1:8

16

3 years

1:10

20

4 years

1:10

20

5 years (preschool)

1:20

20

School-age: Kindergarten & older

1:20

30


Group Daycare Home requirements

Staff qualifications

Caregivers must:
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate
  • Have one year of child development experience in a licensed daycare home, nursery school, kindergarten, or licensed daycare center and six semesters or equivalent quarter hours in courses related directly to child care and child development from an accredited college or university
  • Have one year of credit from an accredited college or university with six semesters or equivalent quarter hours in courses  related directly to child care and development
  • Have completed a credentialing program
  • Have completed 15 clock hours of in-service training per licensing year

Childcare assistants must:
  • Be at least 18 years old if working full-time
  • Be at least 14 years old and five years older than the oldest child in the facility if working part-time
  • Meet background check requirements

Substitutes must:
  • Be at least 21 years old

Staff to child ratios

Reference Appendix H of the child care regulations

A caregiver alone may care for:

1. A mixed age group consisting of:
  • Up to eight children under the age of 12, of which
  • Up to five children may be under the age of five, of which
  • Up to three children may be under 24 months old

2. A mixed age group consisting of:
  • Up to eight children under the age of 12, of which
  • Up to six children may be under the age of five, of which
  • Up to two children may be under 30 months old

  1. 3. A mixed age group of up to eight children under the age of 12 with zero children under the age of three years old

  2.  
  3. 4. A group of up to 12 school age children, ages five through 12 years old

  4.  
A caregiver and an assistant 18 years of age or older may care for:
  • A group of up to 12 children, ages three through six years old
  • A mixed age group consisting of 
  • Up to 12 children under 12 years old, of which
    • No more than six children are under 30 months
    • No more than four of those six children are under 15 months

Daycare Home requirements 

Staff qualifications

Primary caregiver:
Must meet the following requirements listed in Appendix D of the child care regulations.
  • Complete pre-service and in-service training by attending a college or university or vocational school classes, conferences or workshops, and state or local child care association meetings
  • Complete 15 hours of in-service training every licensing year

Childcare assistants:
  • Must be at least 14 years old and at least five years older than the oldest child they supervise
  • Assistants under 18 years must work under the caregiver’s direct supervision

Substitutes must:
  • Be at least 18 years old

Staff to child ratios

Reference section 406.13 of the regulations for more information.

A caregiver alone may care for:

1. A mixed age group consisting of:
  • Up to eight children under the age of 12, of which
  • Up to five children may be under the age of five, of which
  • Up to three children may be under 24 months old

2. A mixed age group consisting of:
  • Up to eight children under the age of 12, of which
  • Up to six children may be under the age of five, of which
  • Up to two children may be under 30 months old

  1. 3. A school-age group consisting of eight school-age children
  2.  

A caregiver and an assistant under age 18 may care for:

  • One of the groupings in points 1 and 2 above and four additional children attending school full-time; or
  • A total of eight children under five years old, of which up to five children may be under 24 months old

A caregiver and an assistant 18 years of age or older may care for:

  • One of the groupings in points 1 and 2 above and four additional children attending school full-time; or
  • Eight children under five years, of which up to five children may be under 24 months old, and four additional children attending school full-time

Childcare license application in Illinois

The Illinois childcare license application process is the same for daycare homes and group daycare homes. The application for daycare centers follows a different process.

Daycare Homes and Group Daycare Homes license application process

Step 1: Register for and complete the online licensing orientation

Before applying for a license, complete the online licensing orientation to learn more about the process and determine if you meet the licensing requirements. 

Step 2: Submit the application

Your application should include the following:

  • Application for child care facility license
  • A list of individuals working at the daycare and all residents of the facility age 13 and older
  • Authorization forms allowing licensing authorities to perform background checks on all applicants, staff members, and household members age 13 and older
  • Child support certification form
  • The names of three adults who can provide character references for the applicant
  • A plan outlining measures to protect against hazards in the daycare home and outdoor area
  • A copy of your high school diploma, general education diploma, or equivalent
  • Evidence of membership in the Gateways to Opportunity Registry
  • Evidence of home radon testing
  • Evidence of lead testing and mitigation strategies

Step 3: Schedule a home visit

After your application has been approved, you’ll need to arrange a visit from an IDCFS licensing representative to your home. The licensing representative will:

  • Ensure that you’re following the regulations for operating a daycare home
  • Determine your facility’s maximum capacity and which areas will be used for childcare activities
  • Obtain your signature on documents related to the operation of your daycare business
  • Elaborate on the record keeping requirements

The licensing representative will assess your home based on the above information and use it to determine your eligibility for a childcare license. You'll receive your childcare operation license (valid for three years) if your application is successful.

Daycare Center license application process

Step 1: Contact your local licensing office

The IDCFS recommends contacting your local childcare licensing office for assistance prior to submitting your application. The daycare center licensing process can be complex and contacting them early can save you time and effort. 

Step 2: Complete and submit your application

First, complete and submit the application for a child care facility license. Here’s a rundown of what to submit along with your application form:

  • Articles of incorporation and corporate by-laws. This applies only if your daycare business follows a corporate organizational structure
  • Your statement of purposes and policies
  • A list of stakeholders, including board and committee members
  • A yearly operating budget
  • A staffing plan
  • A documented delegation of administrative authority
  • Authorization forms allowing licensing authorities to perform background checks
  • Evidence of facility radon testing
  • Evidence of lead testing and mitigation strategies
  • Evidence of membership in the Gateways to Opportunity Registry

Step 3: Obtain a six-month conditional license

If your application goes through, you'll be issued a six-month conditional license to operate your daycare center. Your licensing representative will visit your facility regularly for six months to determine your compliance. If you check all compliance boxes within this time, you'll be issued a childcare license that is valid for three years.

Whether you are starting a center-based program or starting a preschool at home, obtaining a childcare license is one of the first steps to operating your business. You’ll also need to spend time writing a business plan, choosing an inspiring daycare name, and preparing your marketing strategies to attract prospective families to your center. 

No matter the size of your program, a tool like brightwheel’s center management feature, can streamline your operations and simplify your administrative tasks, saving you time and helping you scale when you’re ready.

How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Illinois

You need a new daycare license to remain compliant with Illinois childcare regulations if:

  • Your license expires; or
  • You intend to change your business name, address, corporate status, and ownership

IDCFS will email you the license renewal application forms six months before expiration. You must complete the forms and apply three months before the current license expires. 

The IDCFS will conduct a license study of the facility to determine compliance upon receiving the license renewal application forms. If you are changing your business name, address, corporate status, or ownership, you must complete and submit a new application 30 days before the effective date of the new changes.

Start a daycare in Illinois

Starting a daycare business in Illinois requires proper planning and compliance with licensing standards set by the state. Once this important step is complete and you have your license, you can focus on the next stage of your business.

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