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How to Start a Daycare in North Dakota

Our guide covers the licensing requirements and application process to start a daycare in North Dakota.

How to Start a Daycare in North Dakota

How to Start a Daycare in North Dakota

Opening a daycare or childcare facility can be a fulfilling endeavor for caregivers or educators who have previous experience in early childhood development. Families are consistently in search of childcare providers who are experienced, caring, trustworthy, and knowledgeable about how to help children develop important physical and cognitive skills. 

Before you can start a daycare in North Dakota you’ll need to determine what type of license is required for your specific childcare program and meet all state requirements. Our guide covers the different childcare licenses in North Dakota as well as licensing regulations, the application process, and how to stay compliant. 

Three children sitting on a rug in a classroom at daycare

Source

Do I need a childcare license in North Dakota? 

Starting a daycare center is an incredibly rewarding thing to do. If you’re looking to start one in North Dakota, it’s important to understand the licensing requirements you’ll need to meet, if applicable to your program type. 

The North Dakota Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) requires that most childcare providers become licensed in the state to ensure that they meet necessary quality, health, and safety standards. The type of license that you need, however, will depend on the location of your business and the number of children that you plan to provide care for. The different types of programs include:

  • Childcare center: These programs are often in free-standing buildings, businesses, community centers, or places of worship. They may be privately owned, for-profit businesses or non-profit entities governed by a board of directors. These programs provide care for 19 or more children (infants through 11 years old). License capacity is determined by space availability, staff-to-child ratios, and other local ordinances.
  • Family child care: These programs are located in a private residence, like your own home. Providers can care for up to seven children with no more than three under the age of 24 months (and can include up to two additional school-age children). A provider’s own children under age 12 must be included in the total.
  • Group child care: Group child care programs may be licensed in a home or private residence (group-home license) or a non-residential building (group-facility license). Groups may be licensed for up to 30 children (infants through 11 years old), with the actual license capacity determined by available space, staff-to-child ratios, and sometimes local ordinances. A provider’s own children under age 12 must be included in the total.
  • Preschool program: Private preschool programs provide part-time care, with hours limited to three hours a day. These programs are often in free-standing buildings, businesses, homes, community centers, or places of worship. They may be privately owned, for-profit businesses or non-profit entities governed by a board of directors. These programs serve children ages two through five years old and the number of children varies depending on square-footage requirements.

Self-declared providers and approved relatives who care for five or fewer children, or three children under 24 months, in a home are not required to become licensed under North Dakota law. However, these providers still must meet important requirements, including background checks and basic health and safety training. 

License-exempt childcare

In some instances, you can operate a childcare center without a license. This allows North Dakota families to have full control over what the best fit is for their family’s needs, preferences, and experiences.

    • In-home provider: In-home providers are employees who travel to children’s homes to care for them. This type of care serves children from infancy up to 11 years old. Additionally, the provider can care for up to five children, of which no more than three may be under the age of 24 months. While providers must meet regulations and submit to a background check, they do not need to apply for a childcare license. 
  • Public approval: A public approval program is a governmental organization-run family child care, group child care, preschool, school-age child care, or childcare center. It gains approval by certifying that it has complied with all rules from each type of childcare center. This type of care is set in free-standing buildings, serves children from infancy up to 11 years old, and can accommodate a varying number of children (depending on the type of childcare center it is).
  • Self-declaration provider: Self-declared providers are monitored by the HHS Early Childhood Licensing Unit and must meet several regulations, like background checks and safety regulations. These programs are typically held in private residences and can care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children, of which no more than three may be under the age of 24 months. 

Childcare licensing requirements in North Dakota

Whether you plan to open a licensed family child care home, group child care home, or child care center, North Dakota law requires businesses to earn basic certifications prior to (or within 90 days of) approval. 

All licensed providers must be certified in pediatric first aid by a program approved by the department, as well as department-approved infant and pediatric cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This includes the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) by the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, or other similar cardiopulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillator training programs. 

Approved providers must also be at least 18 years of age and complete necessary department-approved courses, including a basic childcare course, a one-hour sudden infant death prevention training, and a minimum of nine hours of training per year related to childcare licensing.

You can find the complete early childhood services rule books for licensed family child care, group child care, and child care centers here.

General requirements

The general requirements for all licensed childcare facilities are similar. All applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 year old
  • Certify completion of a department-approved basic childcare course within ninety days of licensure 
  • Submit a sketch, diagram, or blueprint of the facility, showing the dimensions, arrangement of rooms to be used by the children, and outdoor play area
  • Conduct a background check on any person working in the facility
  • Certify completion of a minimum of nine hours of department-approved training related to child care every licensing year. The same training courses may be counted toward licensing annual requirements only if at least three years has passed since the last completion date of that training course, with the exception of sudden infant death prevention annual training 
  • Certify completion of one hour of department-approved sudden infant death prevention training prior to providing care to infants, and annually thereafter

Facility requirements

Each childcare program must also meet minimum facility requirements. Facilities must be:

  • Well lit
  • Safe and comfortable
  • Equipped with areas that are designated for play and sleep
  • Equipped with running, safe water
  • Equipped with operable toilets and sinks

Ratio requirements

Programs must also maintain the following staff-to-child ratios and group sizes:

  • For children younger than eighteen months of age, one staff member may care for four children (1:4), with a maximum group size of 10 children
  • For children eighteen months of age to thirty-six months of age, one staff member may care for five children (1:5), with a maximum group size of 15 children
  • For children three years of age to four years of age, one staff member may care for seven children (1:7), with a maximum group size of 20 children
  • For children four years of age to five years of age, one staff member may care for 10 children (1:10), with a maximum group size of 25 children
  • For children five years of age to six years of age, one staff member may care for 12 children (1:12), with a maximum group size of 30 children
  • For children six years to twelve years of age, one staff member may care for 20 children (1:20), with a maximum group size of 40 children
  • When there are mixed-age groups in the same room, the provider must ensure the maximum group size is consistent with the age of the majority of the children or the highest number of children in the youngest age group
  • When children age zero to 18 months are in the mixed-age group, the maximum group size cannot exceed 10 children 

Childcare license application in North Dakota

Starting a successful licensed daycare in North Dakota takes time and effort. Childcare centers typically require an average of nine to 12 months of planning before they are ready to open. If you are interested in becoming a childcare provider in North Dakota, it’s important to understand the following steps: 

Step 1: Complete early childhood units

This resource allows childcare providers to build greater access to quality early childhood experiences, so children between the ages of zero and five can have a solid foundation for their education. This education comprises five units:

  • Best in class 
  • Family and school engagement
  • Licensing
  • Professional development
  • Quality

Step 2: Determine your program type

Next, it’s important to determine which childcare program is right for you and your business goals. Refer to the details mentioned earlier to learn about the options available to you and the licensing requirements and laws you’ll need to follow.

Step 3: Understand all childcare regulations

Discuss your plans with a childcare licensing specialist at your local county social services office. They can walk you through the application process and answer any questions you have regarding childcare regulations, program types, or general information on how to become a provider.

Step 4: Complete a criminal background check

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll then be asked to submit to a criminal background check. You, all staff members, and any individuals over the age of 18 residing in the home where care will be provided are required to complete a fingerprint background check.

Step 5: Complete required training

Once you pass a background check, you’ll be required to complete pre-service training, which includes:

  • New Provider Orientation
  • Getting Started - ND's Basic Child Care Course
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Pediatric CPR/AED and Pediatric First Aid

Step 6: Submit required paperwork

Childcare providers are required to submit specific paperwork as part of the initial application and renewal process. Each provider type requires slightly different documentation. All required paperwork must be submitted to your licensing specialist via the online Child Care Licensing system.

Step 7: Utilize business resources 

Child Care Aware of North Dakota offers childcare providers a limited amount of pre-licensing business resources and assistance (at no additional cost). Their consultants can help you consider the best location for your business, draft a business plan (making sure to outline any proposed marketing strategies) and financial analysis, and review specifics around building and fire inspections, safe food preparation, program policies, equipment and supplies, and much more. 

While they are not authorized to issue licenses, they are designed to be a guide in helping you properly prepare so that your daycare license is approved by the state.

Step 8: Learn about childcare provider support

Opening a childcare facility can be expensive and time consuming, which is why North Dakota provides a variety of grant and support options designed to make going through this process easier. From general support resources to food programs, there are many programs you can utilize to get your operation off the ground.

Step 9: Watch online licensing system training videos

At this stage, it’s important to watch all of the necessary online licensing training videos provided by HHS. This training is split into two parts. You can view part one here and part two here.

Step 10: Submit your application

Once you have a detailed plan for your business, including location, facility size, staffing expectations, and of course, a unique daycare name, you are ready to contact your licensing specialist once again to schedule a pre-licensing site visit. This visit is meant to ensure your readiness before you submit a formal application. 

The following is a list of everything that is required when submitting your application for licensure:

  • $40 application fee
  • Background check forms for all staff and volunteers over age 18
  • Proof of liability insurance
  • Documentation to verify qualifications of staff and director
  • Copies of your center’s policies, programming schedule, and emergency procedures
  • Copy of your center’s floor plan
  • Copy of your fire inspection report
  • Copy of your health and sanitation report
  • Copies of your and your staff’s TB test results
  • Copy of your health information certification 
  • Any other forms required by administrative rule

After you submit your application and all required documents, you can expect to receive a complete review by your county licensing specialist and approval or rejection of your application within 60 days. 

How to stay compliant with a daycare license in North Dakota

Once your application has been approved and you have received your daycare license from the state, it is your responsibility to ensure that your home or facility maintains compliance with North Dakota’s state licensing requirements. 

Current licenses must be displayed prominently in the premises to which they apply. An application for a new license must be filed upon change of provider or location. Licenses must also specify the maximum number of children who may be cared for by the center or group childcare home. This facility may not admit a greater number of children than the license allows.  

Annual fire and emergency inspections are also required to maintain compliance with North Dakota’s childcare regulations. As a provider, you must ensure that your facility is equipped with sufficient smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, as recommended by the local fire department and state fire marshal. 

Other important aspects of maintaining compliance involve keeping records of enrollment, attendance, billing, and health for all children and staff in your facility, and submitting to annual monitoring visits. While this can be a lot to keep track of, a tool like brightwheel’s center management software helps streamline your center’s record keeping, reporting, and admissions process, helping you stay on top of crucial compliance requirements. 

A full list of compliance regulations for family child care homes, group child care homes, and child care centers provides you with all you need to remain compliant. 

License renewal

You must renew your daycare license by submitting an application and the required documentation at least 45 days before your current license expires. Renewal applications that haven't been completed by the license expiration date may be terminated. Applicants who have been terminated can't operate a center or group facility until a new application process has been completed and a childcare license has been issued.

Start a daycare in North Dakota

Childcare centers play an integral role in the lives of many families and children and can also be a lucrative business venture. With organization, careful planning, and utilizing all of the resources available to you, your program can begin to make an impact in your community.


Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.

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