When families enroll their child in a childcare program, they trust in the providers to offer a safe and enriching environment where their child can learn and grow. Whether you’re interested in starting a home-based daycare or a center-based program, you’ll need to ensure it meets the standards of care set by the state of Minnesota.
In this article, we outline how to start a daycare in Minnesota. You’ll also find answers to common questions about licensing, the application process, and how to remain compliant with regulations.
Do I need a childcare license in Minnesota?
To start a daycare center in Minnesota, state law requires most childcare providers to obtain a license or formal registration/certification unless they meet a specific exemption. The requirements to secure your license will depend on how many children you watch and where you offer your services.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is responsible for managing the licensure, registration, and certification process for childcare providers throughout the state.
Licensed family child care
Licensed family child care providers are defined as people who provide child care in their home. Minnesota state law requires most in-home providers to have a license:
- Family childcare program: A maximum of 10 children in your care. No more than six children can be younger than school age.
- Group family child care: A maximum of 14 children in your care.
- Specialized infant and toddler family daycare: A maximum of 10 children in your care.
There are a limited number of circumstances where a provider can operate a childcare program in their own home without a license. These exemptions are known as providing legal non-licensed child care and include the following:
- Providing care for children that are related to you
- Caring for children from only one unrelated family
- Caring for related children and children from only one unrelated family
Licensed childcare center
A licensed childcare center is defined as a facility that provides childcare services in a nonresidential setting with larger numbers of children being cared for.
Certified license exempt centers
The Minnesota Department of Human Services also certifies license exempt centers that participate in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). Certification helps protect the health and safety of children and means the center meets specific requirements.
Some examples of certified license exempt centers include:
- Recreation programs operated or approved by a park and recreation board whose primary purpose is to provide recreational activities for children
- Programs operated by a school, YMCA, YWCA, or Jewish Community Center (JCC) whose primary purpose is providing child care or services to school-age children
- Programs operated by the public school for children 33 months and older
- Camps licensed by the Department of Health
- Head Start and nonresidential programs that operate for less than 45 days a year
- Programs for children such as scouting, boys and girls clubs, and arts and sports programs provided for a total of fewer than 30 days in any 12-month period
Childcare licensing requirements in Minnesota
When creating your daycare business plan, it’s important that you know the licensing requirements. You must meet some minimum standards to secure your childcare license in Minnesota.
Licensed family child care provider
Applicants who want to start a preschool at home and become a licensed family child care provider must comply with all the rules and regulations in the Minnesota Rules, Rule 2, which applies to family child care.
Applicants must be 18 years old
All adults in the home must complete a background study
Children over 13 in the home must complete a name-based background study
Must have first aid and CPR training
Must complete a fire marshal inspection
Must complete required pre-licensure training
Must obtain a physician’s statement of medical health that says applicant is physically able to care for children
Must obtain the proper amount of daycare insurance coverage
Must meet numerous physical space requirements, including:
Minimum of 35 square feet of usable indoor space per child
Minimum of 50 square feet of usable outdoor space per child, or use a park, playground or play space within 1,500 feet of your home
Minimum indoor air temperature of at least 62 degrees fahrenheit must be maintained
All areas used by children must be free of litter, toxic materials, and other hazards
Must maintain the correct capacity limits and staff-to-child ratios depending on the type of center you operate:
Class A License: One adult
- Capacity: 10 children under 11 years old
- School-age children: All 10 children can be school age
- Under school age: Of the 10 children, you can have up to six children who are under school age:
- Preschool: All six of the children under school age can be preschoolers
- Of the six children under school age, you can have a total of three infants and toddlers
- Toddlers: Up to three children can be toddlers
- Infants: Up to two children can be infants
- Class B(1) License (specialized infant and toddler family day care): One adult
- Capacity: Five children under 11 years old
- School age: All five children can be school age
- Under school age: Of the five children, you can have up to a total of three preschoolers, toddlers and infants, in any combination
Class B(2) License (specialized infant and toddler family day care): One adult
- Capacity: Six children under 11 years old
- School age: All six children can be school age
- Under school age: Of the six children, you can have up to four children who are under school age:
- Preschool and toddlers: All four of the children under school age can be preschoolers or toddlers
- Infants: You can have up to two infants
Licensed childcare center
All licensed childcare centers must comply with all the rules and regulations in the Minnesota Rules, Rule 3, which applies to childcare centers.
- Childcare center directors must meet general requirements. They must be at least 18 years old and meet the following educational requirements:
- Be a high school graduate or hold an equivalent diploma attained through successful completion of the commissioner of education-selected high school equivalency test
- Have at least 1,040 hours of paid or unpaid staff supervision experience
- Have at least nine quarter credits or 90 hours earned in any combination of accredited courses in staff supervision, human relations, and child development
- Meet staff-to-child ratios, which vary by age group:
- Infants: One adult for four children (1:4); maximum group size of 8
- Toddlers: One adult for seven children (1:7); maximum group size of 14
- Preschoolers: One adult for 10 children (1:10); maximum group size of 20
- School-aged children: One adult for 15 children (1:15); maximum group size of 30
- Must complete background study requirements
- The facility must meet specific physical space requirements:
- A minimum of 35 square feet of indoor space for each child in attendance
- A minimum outdoor activity space of at least 1,500 square feet and 75 square feet of space per child within the area during use
- Must maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees fahrenheit in indoor areas used by children
- The center must have at least one hand sink and one toilet for each 15 children
Childcare license application in Minnesota
Licensed family child care
The process to become a licensed family child care program includes several steps:
Step 1: Contact your local county licensor
Contact your local DHS office to utilize their assistance throughout the licensing application process.
Step 2: Attend an orientation
Some counties may require prospective childcare providers to attend an orientation or informational meeting before completing a license application. The orientation gives a broad overview of the licensing regulations and process.
Step 3: Complete an application
After you attend an orientation you will receive your application materials. Complete the family child care application and submit it directly to your county licensing unit. Many counties have the application information on their websites.
Step 4: Pass a fire marshal inspection
Your licensor will help you determine if you need a fire marshal inspection. If you rent your home, you will need your landlord’s permission for a fire marshal inspection before it can be completed.
Step 5: Complete all required background studies
State law requires childcare providers to complete a background study by DHS before obtaining a license. DHS background studies include a review of criminal history information maintained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, records of substantiated maltreatment of children and vulnerable adults, an FBI record check, and reviews of other applicable records.
Step 6: Read and understand all licensing rules and statutes
Your program must adhere to all state licensing requirements.
Step 7: Complete pre-licensure training
There are specific training requirements for licensed family child care providers. You must complete all required initial training and provide documentation to your licensor prior to becoming licensed.
Step 8: Write your program policies
Your licensor can help you as you develop your written policies for your program and ensure they meet all regulations.
Step 9: Obtain a physician’s statement of a medical exam
Applicants must undergo a physical examination from a licensed physician within 12 months prior to initial licensure that states they are physically able to care for young children.
Step 10: Complete all the required licensing paperwork
Your licensor will provide assistance as you complete all required paperwork.
Step 11: Complete a pre-licensing home inspection
Your licensor will inspect your indoor and outdoor environment for compliance during your pre-licensing home inspection. Your physical space must meet certain standards and you may need to make changes to your home to come into compliance before being licensed.
If your application is received and approved by the DHS, then you can expect to receive your family child care license. After that, it’s time to choose a name for your childcare program and start interviewing potential families.
Licensed childcare center
There are three primary steps in the Minnesota childcare license application process:
- Phase 1: Submit your application to the licensing board
- Phase 2: A licensor reviews your license while you complete other application requirements
- Phase 3: A pre-licensing inspection is done to verify that you’ve met all requirements before receiving your license
Phase 1: Submit your application
In the first phase, you must submit your application. There is a detailed application instruction guide to assist you in completing yours.
You’ll need to include:
- Application form
- Ownership verification
- Proof of workers compensation policy
- Floor plan
- Policies and procedures
All items, including payment, must be sent to DHS Licensing via mail. You can not submit them digitally or by fax or email.
Once your application is received, it’s assigned to a licensor. Your licensor will remain on your case throughout the application process. You should start working on phase two while you wait to hear about your application.
Phase 2: Complete additional application requirements
During phase two, your licensor will review your application while you simultaneously work on separate tasks.
How you move through this process will look different for every provider, since several factors impact this phase.
You may need to complete all or a portion of the items listed below. You can refer to your licensor for specifics about what each entails.
- Incomplete policies and procedures and application requirements
- Background study requirements
- Planning for the nutritional needs of children
- Equipment and supplies
- Health consultant requirements
- Personnel records requirements and related forms
- Children’s records requirements and related forms
- Administrative records requirements and related forms
Phase 3: Prepare for an on-site inspection
During this last phase, you must prepare for your on-site pre-licensure inspection. This will take place once all other parts of your application are approved.
The licensor will review the items on your licensing checklist with you and take a look at documents not previously submitted during phases one and two. They’ll also test your knowledge of the laws, rules, and requirements related to child care in Minnesota. You can expect to answer questions about staffing ratios, staff qualifications, emergency procedures, and other requirements.
Licensure waiting period
Once your pre-licensing inspection is complete, the licensor will review your application in its entirety. Within 90 days, they’ll accept or deny your application. If you meet all licensing requirements, you’ll receive your license, which will remain valid for 12 months.
While going through the application process, start thinking about how you want to operate and grow your business. Brainstorm childcare marketing strategies and research the tools you’ll need to operate your center efficiently. A tool like brightwheel's center management feature makes it easy to manage administrative tasks at your preschool or daycare center. Streamline your admissions process, reporting, and record keeping, all from one central platform.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Minnesota
Your childcare center license will expire on December 31 of each calendar year, and you must renew it annually before the expiration date.
To remain compliant with your license, you’ll need to:
- Pass annual inspections: These can be announced or unannounced, depending on your license
- Receive training: The director, staff, and unsupervised volunteers must receive and document ongoing training annually. The requirement will range between 12 to 24 hours of related training
- Licensing fee: You must pay your annual licensing fee of up to $50
If your center isn’t in compliance, the state of Minnesota can respond in several ways. Depending on the violation and its severity, the sanctions may include any of the following:
- Conditional license issuance
- Temporary immediate suspension
- License revocation
Start a daycare in Minnesota
Understanding the requirements for the type of child care you want to provide is just the beginning of your journey to starting a daycare in Minnesota. However, with the information and resources provided here, you can be well on your way to establishing a successful program in your community.