Starting a daycare in North Carolina requires careful planning and compliance with state licensing requirements. A childcare license helps ensure the safety of the children in your care and exact requirements differ based on the type of center you operate.
In this guide, we’ll cover the different types of childcare licenses in North Carolina and steps to take when applying for a license.
Do I need a childcare license in North Carolina?
Before starting a daycare center, you’ll need to understand the licensing requirements in your local area. A daycare center must have a license to operate legally in North Carolina. A childcare license is issued by the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
There are three types of childcare licenses:
- Child care center (CCC) license: This is required if you provide care to more than three children under the age of 13 who receive regular care (at least once a week for more than four hours) from caregivers who are not related.
- Center located in a residence (CLIR): This is required if your daycare center operates from a residential home. It is required for those caring for three to 12 children under the age of 13 and is subject to the same regulations as CCCs; additional requirements may apply, depending on local zoning ordinances.
- Family child care home (FCCH): This license is required if you provide care to 2 to 9 children at one time in your home.
The following are exemptions from the childcare license requirement:
- Recreational programs operated for less than four consecutive months in a year
- Specialized activities or instruction such as athletics, art, and music lessons and organized clubs like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
- Drop-in/short-term care when parents are on the premises or easily accessible
- Public schools & nonpublic schools accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Vacation Bible schools, summer day camps, centers and homes located on federal property
- Cooperative arrangements among parents to provide care for their children as a convenience rather than for employment
- Any childcare program or arrangement consisting of two or more components operating for four hours or less per day with different children attending each component
Childcare licensing requirements in North Carolina
Below are some of the main licensing requirements for child care centers (CCC) including centers located in a residence (CLIR):
A childcare center director must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Have an undergraduate, graduate, or associate degree with at least 12 semester hours in child development, child psychology, early childhood education, or a related field
- Have a Child Development Associate Credential
In addition, you must have at least:
- Two semester hours or 32 clock hours of training in the area of early childhood program administration
- One-year experience performing administrative responsibilities
Lead teacher and teacher qualifications
- Be age 18 or older and have a high school diploma or its equivalent
- Have one year of experience in a center or two years of experience in a Family Child Care Home OR
- Have completed a two-year high school program of Early Childhood Education in Family and Consumer Sciences Education
Staff development/training requirements
All staff who care for or accompany children off-premises must meet the following requirements:
- Have first aid and CPR certifications
- Infant room staff must have ITS-SIDS training, which must be renewed every three years
- All staff must complete Recognizing and Responding to Suspicions of Child Maltreatment within 90 days of employment
- One staff member must complete Emergency Preparedness and Response in Child Care training within one year (or four months of vacancy)
- One staff member must complete Playground Safety training within six months of employment (or date of vacancy)
- Orientation training must be completed within the first six weeks (with a minimum of 16 hours), and six of those hours must be completed within the first two weeks
- Health and safety training must be completed within one year of employment and retaken every five years
- All staff members must create and review a Professional Development Plan annually
- Ongoing training should be selected according to job-related needs, with the amount of ongoing training varying based on educational level, professional experience, and prior training
Minimum ratio requirements for center-based care in North Carolina
Additional Number of School-Aged Children Allowed
0 to 12 months
12 to 24 months
2 to 13 years
3 to 13 years
Family child care homes (FCCH)
- Be at least 21 years old
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Have completed approved criminal background check
- Have proof of completion of CPR and first aid course
- Have completed Infant Toddler Safe Sleep training within the past twelve months
Maximum Group Size
12 to 24 months
2 to 3 years
4 to 5 years
5 years and older
Childcare license application in North Carolina
Step 1: Review the basic information in the potential providers' booklet
This potential provider booklet outlines the state requirements for operating a daycare center in North Carolina. Additionally, contact your county or city government to see if any local standards need to be considered. If you have questions regarding the application process, contact the DCDEE by dialing the toll-free number 800.859.0829 (for in-state calls only) or 919.814.6300 for assistance.
Step 2: Register for a pre-licensing workshop
Register for a pre-licensing workshop on the DCDEE website. There is a non-refundable fee of $135 per person.
The two-day pre-licensing workshop covers topics such as:
- Choosing a location and building for your childcare center
- Working with your daycare consultant during the application process
- Providing high-quality care to young children
- Preparing your center for opening
Step 3: Attend a pre-licensing workshop
Before attending the pre-licensing workshop, you must review the Quality Costs Resource Guide. This guide outlines the early care and education system and provides key resources to help you provide quality child care. The workshop leader will review this information on day two of the workshop, so bring a copy.
Step 4: Connect with a daycare consultant
Once you have registered and attended a pre-licensing workshop, you will receive a list of lead child care consultants and their corresponding counties. Reach out to the consultant serving your county for assistance in completing the application forms. The consultant will schedule multiple pre-licensing visits with you to discuss licensing requirements and provide guidance.
Use the pre-licensing guide to familiarize yourself with the next steps.
Step 5: Receive your CCC or CLIR license
Once your daycare consultant is satisfied that your center meets all regulatory requirements, you will be required to pay an annual license fee based on the capacity of your center. Then you will receive a temporary six-month license to operate your daycare center.
To apply for this license, follow these steps:
Step 1: Complete a pre-licensing workshop
Attend the required one-day family childcare home pre-licensing workshop to get an overview of the regulations. The fee for the 5-hour workshop is $75. Visit the DCDEE website for workshop schedules.
Step 2: Contact your local zoning and planning office
Contact your local zoning and planning office to determine if your residence complies with the zoning requirements for operating a childcare home.
Step 3: Get written permission from your landlord or homeowners association (HOA)
Before DCDEE can assist you in setting up your childcare facility, it is necessary to obtain written permission from the owner if you are renting or homeowners association (HOA) if you are part of an HOA.
Step 4: Meet criminal background check requirements
Complete a criminal background check. This must be completed by the operator, employees, and all household members over the age of 15 who are present while children are in care.
Step 5: Complete required training
You must show evidence of completing an approved CPR and First Aid Course and Infant Toddler Safe Sleep Training within the past twelve months.
Step 6: Complete your application
Download the family child care home application packet from the DCDEE website.
Step 7: Schedule a pre-licensing consultation
Upon completing the Family Child Care Home Pre-Licensing Workshop and submitting a completed application along with the required supporting documents, a pre-licensing consultation will be scheduled to assess your readiness for licensing. During the consultation, a childcare consultant will review all the applicable childcare requirements, including the additional CCDF Health and Safety Training you must complete within one year of employment.
The consultant will also evaluate your home's indoor and outdoor areas and provide technical assistance to ensure you have the necessary information to prepare for licensure. Additional forms will be provided during this visit if required to complete the application process.
Step 8: Request an initial assessment
Once you have completed the pre-licensing consultation visit and reviewed the relevant requirements to ensure compliance, contact the lead childcare consultant in your area to request an Initial Assessment. If all the requirements have been met, the operator will be granted a temporary license valid for six months.
How to stay compliant with a daycare license in North Carolina
Apart from obtaining the necessary daycare license for your childcare business, you must write your business plan and come up with a memorable daycare name. A well-designed plan will provide the foundation for your business by defining your mission statement, establishing your policies and procedures, setting budgets, and devising your marketing strategies.
Whether you open a center-based program or start a preschool at home you can streamline your daycare operations with a tool like brightwheel's center management software, which helps you simplify the enrollment process, attendance records, schedules, and more.
After obtaining your license, you must maintain compliance with North Carolina regulations to remain in operation:
- Make sure you have obtained the proper daycare license. The Division of Child Development and Early Education must license all daycares in North Carolina. A license is valid for three years and can be renewed online or through the mail.
- Follow the specified safety standards and regulations. Daycares must meet minimum safety standards outlined by DCDEE, including having a safe building, playground equipment, and sanitation practices.
- Ensure that all staff members have passed criminal background checks as required by law. All daycare staff must undergo a criminal background check before employment.
- Maintain records of all children enrolled in the daycare, including immunization and health records. All enrolled children must have up-to-date immunizations and health exams as state law requires.
- Prepare for regular inspections from DCDEE or other local agencies. Daycares are required to pass regular inspections to remain compliant. Inspections may include reviews of safety standards, staff qualifications, and immunization records.
Start your North Carolina daycare the right way
Getting the proper license is the first step in starting a daycare in North Carolina and ensuring that you remain compliant with the regulations. This will also help you navigate setting up your operation efficiently and successfully.
Be sure to research, complete the necessary paperwork and inspections, and prepare to open for business. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can start a daycare in North Carolina that will be successful for years.