If you're considering becoming a childcare provider in New Jersey, there are steps you’ll need to take to become licensed before opening for business. You’ll need to understand the legal requirements for the type of childcare provider you plan to become and comply with licensing laws.
This article will discuss the licensing requirements, provide the resources and steps required to become a licensed childcare provider in New Jersey, and help you navigate the licensing process from start to finish.
Do I need a childcare license in New Jersey?
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) defines a “childcare center” as any home or facility maintained for the care, development, or supervision of six or more children under 13 years of age who attend for less than 24 hours a day. Facilities such as daycare centers, night-time centers, centers for children with special needs, school-age childcare programs, centers serving sick children, and infant-toddler programs all fall under the childcare center definition. All childcare centers are required to be licensed. If you aren’t sure whether your program needs to be licensed, get in touch with the DCF Office of Licensing to confirm before you begin operating.
There are certain types of childcare providers that are generally exempt from licensure in the state of New Jersey. For example, home-based childcare programs that care for less than six children, excluding any that live in the home, do not require a license. Other programs that don’t meet the definition of childcare center, meaning caring for fewer than six children below 13 years of age, are also exempt. Refer to section 3A:52-1.3 in the Manual of Requirements for Child Care Centers to learn more about program exemptions. Some of them include:
- Programs where each child attends on a drop-in basis for no more than two hours and the parent of each child is readily accessible in the same building
- Programs operating within a geographic area or facility that is owned or operated by the federal government
- Programs that offer activities for children who attend on an “open door” basis, where there is no agreement for the program to assume responsibility for the care of the child
- Programs offering childcare on a sporadic, isolated basis to meet an emergency or special need, such as emergency school closings, conferences, or training sessions
- Privately operated infant and preschool programs that are approved by the Department of Education to provide services exclusively to local school districts for children with disabilities
- Homework or tutorial programs that are not designed for childcare purposes
Certain childcare providers that are exempt may still choose to apply for a license at their own discretion. This includes family childcare providers, who take care of up to five children at a time, family, friend, and neighbor providers who care for up to two unrelated children for less than 24 hours a day, and in-home providers who care for a child in their own home fewer than 24 hours a day. These providers can register with the state as a family childcare provider through their county's Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R). If you're interested in registering to become a family or in-home childcare provider, you'll need to take the following steps:
- Submit your application to your county's Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R)
- Attend training sponsored by the Division of Family Development (DFD) or your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R)
- Participate in a home inspection to ensure your home complies with local, state, and federal requirements
- Pay a $25 registration fee to receive your Certificate of Registration
- Undergo a background check
You can contact the CCR&R for your county to learn more about the various kinds of family childcare providers and visit childcarenj.gov for more information.
Childcare licensing requirements in New Jersey
Before applying for your childcare license, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the requirements for New Jersey childcare centers. Everything you need to know, from facility and staffing requirements to record keeping, insurance, health, and safety standards, is found in the Manual of Requirements for Child Care Centers. It also details all of the different requirements for center directors, teachers, and staff. Every person involved in a childcare center is required to:
- Be of good character and reputation
- Be in sufficient physical, mental and emotional health to perform their job duties satisfactorily
- Possess skills, attributes, and characteristics conducive to and suitable for sponsoring a center or dealing with children, as applicable
Directors for early childhood programs licensed to serve more than 30 children must meet at least one of these requirements:
- Master’s degree in any field related to children or business
- Bachelor’s degree and one year of managerial or supervisory experience
Directors for early childhood programs licensed to serve 30 or fewer children must meet at least one of these requirements:
- Associate’s degree in early childhood education or child development
- Six college credits in early childhood education or child development and nine credits in education, psychology, health care, nursing, or any field related to child growth or development
- Child Development Associate (CDA) credential
- Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) certificate
- Group teacher endorsement from the New Jersey Registry for Childhood Professionals, Professional Impact New Jersey
- New Jersey Infant/Toddler Credential administered through Professional Impact New Jersey
Other childcare center requirements include, but aren’t limited to:
- Proof of liability insurance
- Staff qualifications
- Supervision requirements and staff-to-child ratios
- Developmental program activities and equipment
- Health and sanitation conditions and practices
- Provisions for rest and sleep
- Administrative and record keeping requirements
- Background checks for all staff members
You’ll find this list and more in the Manual of Requirements and the provider FAQ page. Additionally, the state has provided the Understanding Licensing packet, which contains a checklist of the requirements to make it easier for you to meet and navigate all necessary provisions.
There are also staff-to-child ratio requirements for childcare programs. These ratios are loosened during sleep periods or for centers that primarily care for sick children. In general, staffing ratios are as follows:
- Under 18 months: One staff member for four children (1:4)
- 18 months up to 2 ½ years: One staff member for six children (1:6)
- 2 ½ years up to 4 years: One staff member for 10 children (1:10)
- 4 years: One staff member for 12 children (1:12)
- 5 years and older: One staff member for 15 children (1:15)
Childcare license application in New Jersey
Step 1: Find and get approval for your center’s location
The first step to opening a childcare center in New Jersey is finding a location that complies with zoning laws and meets the state’s childcare regulations. Once you choose a site, you’ll have to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) provided by the municipality where the building is located. The certificate proves that the building complies with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code (NJUCC) provisions and is appropriate for use as a childcare center.
Once you receive your Certificate of Occupancy, submit a copy of it to the Office of Licensing for the building to be used as one of the following classifications:
- E (Educational): For buildings accommodating six or more children older than 2 ½ years
- I-4 (Institutional): For buildings accommodating one or more children younger than 2 ½ years of age
- A-3 (Assembly): For buildings accommodating school-age children only
Step 2: Pass a site inspection
After receiving your Certificate of Occupancy, contact the Office of Licensing at 1-877-667-9845 for a courtesy site inspection. It’s important to do this early on so you can make any necessary changes before submitting your application. If the building is new, the site inspector can review any architectural plans to ensure they’re compliant.
If one owner is using two or more buildings for the childcare center, a Certificate of Occupancy will need to be obtained for both sites and each site will need to be inspected. The state may issue a separate license for each building or a single license that covers both buildings that comprise a single childcare center. Once your location is all set, you can begin developing your business plan for your childcare center.
Step 3: Submit your application and fees
You can apply for your license online through the New Jersey Child Care Information System website. The application should be submitted to the Office of Licensing at least 45 days before the anticipated opening of the center. After you fill out the application and provide the correct documentation about your center, you’ll submit your licensing fee as a check or money order to the Treasurer of New Jersey. The fees range from $110 to $250, depending on the size of your center.
Step 4: Obtain background checks
Criminal background checks and Child Abuse Record Information (CARI) checks must be requested from the state after you apply. You must consent to a background check for yourself and request a background check for all staff members. There is a $10 processing fee associated with each CARI form. Contact the Office of Licensing at 1-877-667-9845 for more information.
Step 5: Prepare for your licensing inspection
After applying, a licensing inspector will review your facility and ensure it meets all state requirements.
Step 6: Receive your license
When you've completed your licensing inspection visit and have met all requirements, you'll be issued a temporary childcare license for up to six months. During this time, you should choose the name of your childcare program and be taking steps to receive your regular license.
For example, suppose you still need to complete some provisions, but there is no serious harm to the health and safety of the children. In that case, you’ll still be issued a temporary license for up to six months, and the licensing office will submit the steps you need to take to meet all provisions in writing. License periods are valid for three years. Include your licensure in the marketing for your childcare program to establish credibility with future families.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in New Jersey
To remain compliant, your license must be renewed every three years. Additionally, you'll need to keep up with all the licensing requirements as you manage your center. A tool like brightwheel’s center management feature can help you simplify administrative tasks and streamline your center’s admissions process, record keeping, and reporting.
The following list, although not all-inclusive, includes reasons for your license to be revoked or denied renewal. Please see the Manual of Requirements for Child Care Centers for more information.
- Lack of administration or recordkeeping
- Refusal of facility inspections
- Policy or staff conduct that presents a hazard to the health, safety, education, and well-being of the children attending
- Failure to provide developmental activities to serve the children's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive needs
- Refusal to terminate the employment of a staff member when a Child Abuse Record Information background check reveals an incident of child abuse or neglect
Depending on the type of childcare business you are opening, you might need to apply for a license from the state of New Jersey. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the requirements and utilizing the resources available to you is key to helping you start and operate a successful childcare business. With careful planning and preparation, you can navigate the childcare licensing process and focus on the next stage of your business.