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How to Start a Daycare in Pennsylvania

Learn about daycare licensing requirements in Pennsylvania.

How to Start a Daycare in Pennsylvania

How to Start a Daycare in Pennsylvania

Starting a daycare business in Pennsylvania could be the right choice if you love working with children. Before opening for business, you’ll need to take steps to obtain a license and ensure you meet all provider requirements. 

Pennsylvania provides operation licenses for three types of daycare facilities: child care centers, group child care homes, and family child care homes. This guide provides a step-by-step explanation of the application process, the specific regulations and requirements you must follow, the forms you must submit, and information on how to remain compliant.

Do I need a childcare license in Pennsylvania?

You need a childcare license to start and operate a daycare business in Pennsylvania if you intend to care for three or more children unrelated to you. If you provide care to your children or a relative's children, you’re legally exempt, according to state regulations.

A childcare license is required in Pennsylvania to ensure that daycare centers comply with state health and safety standards. Childcare licensing in Pennsylvania is regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). The DHS is mandated to provide services and programs to support Pennsylvania's families and individuals in need. 

In particular, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), under DHS management, is responsible for managing the licensing procedures. This includes conducting orientations and facility inspections. The OCDEL’s Bureau of Certification Services oversees all childcare licensing. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your local regional child development offices for more information.

As stated previously, Pennsylvania requires licenses for three types of daycares: childcare centers, group child care homes, and family child care homes:

Childcare licensing requirements in Pennsylvania

In addition to getting the appropriate daycare license for the childcare business you intend to run, you should have a solid business plan. This will help you set the framework for your business by outlining your mission statement, policies and procedures, budgets, and marketing strategies

Child care center requirements

Facility persons

A staff person must:

  • Be age 18 or older (a person age 16 or older may be a staff person if they are enrolled in an accredited curriculum and other guidelines outlined by the state are met)
  • Have at least six hours of childcare training
  • Have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential, nine credit hours in early childhood education, and one year of experience

A volunteer must:

  • Be age 16 years or older
  • Be supervised directly by a staff person

A director must:

  • Have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, child development, special education, elementary education, or the human services field and have one year of experience handling children

A group supervisor must:

  • Have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, child development, special education, elementary education, or the human services field and one year of experience handling children

An aide must:

  • Have a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate

Staff-to-child ratio

The following ratios apply when children are grouped by similar age levels:

Age Levels

Staff

Children

Maximum Group Size

Total Number of Staff Required for the Maximum Group Size

Infant

1

4

8

2

Young toddlers

1

5

10

2

Older toddler

1

6

12

2

Preschool

1

10

20

2

Young school-age

1

12

24

2

Older school-age

1

15

30

2

 

If children are grouped in mixed age levels, the ratio of staff to children is determined by the youngest child in the group.

Physical site requirements

  • An indoor and outdoor space for physical activity like running, climbing, and jumping
  • Children’s capacity must not exceed the facility’s maximum capacity
  • Outdoor and indoor activity spaces must not be used for other purposes unrelated to child care
  • Walkways should be safe and free from snow, ice, and other hazards
  • Smoking is prohibited within the facility
  • There should be an adequate supply of safe drinking water
  • A first aid kit with all supplies like soap, bandages, tape, scissors, tweezers, etc
  • Fire safety and fire management equipment
  • A documented plan of daily activities

Equipment

  • Provide age-appropriate play materials, e.g., toys
  • Playing materials should be clean and safe

Nutrition

    • Food served to children should be safe and wholesome
    • Food handling practices must comply with Department of Health standards

Group child care home requirements

Facility persons

A staff person must:

  • Be age 18 or older (a person age 16 or older may be a staff person if they are enrolled in an accredited curriculum, and other guidelines outlined by the state are met)
  • Have at least six hours of child care training
  • Have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential, nine credit hours in early childhood education, and one year of experience

A volunteer must:

  • Be age 16 or older
  • Be supervised directly by a staff person

A primary staff person must have:

  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate and 30 credit hours in early childhood education, child development, special education, elementary education, the human services field; or 
  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate, including 600 or more hours of secondary training; or
  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate, 15 credit hours in early childhood education, child development, special education, elementary education, or the human services field, and one year of experience handling children; or
  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate and completion of a postsecondary training curriculum; or
  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate and two years of experience handling children.

A secondary staff person must have:

  • A high school diploma or a general educational development certificate; or
  • A minimum of an eighth-grade education and enrollment in a program in child development
  • Completed the eighth grade and have two years of experience working with children

Staff-to-child ratio

These ratios should apply when children are grouped by similar age levels:

Age Levels

Staff

Children

Maximum Group Size

Total Number of Staff Required for the Maximum Group Size

Infant

1

4

12

3

Young toddlers

1

5

12

3

Older toddler

1

6

12

2

Preschool

1

10

12

2

Young school-age

1

12

12

1

Older school-age

1

15

15

1

 

The age of the youngest child in a group determines the staff-to-child ratio when children are grouped in mixed age levels. 

Physical site requirements

  • An indoor and outdoor space for active play like running, climbing, and jumping
  • Children’s capacity must not exceed the facility’s maximum capacity
  • Outdoor, and indoor activity spaces must not be used for other purposes unrelated to child care
  • Walkways should be safe and free from snow, ice, and other hazards
  • Smoking is prohibited within the facility
  • There should be an adequate supply of safe drinking water
  • A first aid kit with all supplies like soap, bandages, tape, scissors, tweezers, etc.
  • Fire safety and fire management equipment
  • A documented plan of daily activities

Equipment

  • Provide age-appropriate play materials, e.g., toys
  • Playing materials should be clean and safe

Nutrition

  • Food served to children should be safe and wholesome
  • Food handling practices must comply with Department of Health standards

Facility persons

The operator must:

  • Be age 18 or older
  • Have a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate

A staff person must:

  • Be age 18 or older
  • Have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or a Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential, nine credit hours in early childhood education, and one year of experience

A volunteer must:

  • Be age 16 or older
  • Be directly supervised by a staff person

Staff-to-child ratio

  • The number of children in your care must not exceed six at any time

Physical site requirements

  • Fencing or barriers if unsafe places are near the outdoor play area
  • Walkways should be safe and free from snow, ice, and other hazards
  • Smoking is prohibited within the facility
  • There should be an adequate supply of safe drinking water
  • A first aid kit with all supplies like soap, bandages, tape, scissors, tweezers, etc.
  • Fire safety and fire management equipment
  • A documented plan of daily activities

Equipment

  • Provide age-appropriate play materials, e.g., toys
  • Playing materials should be clean and safe

Nutrition

  • Food served to children should be safe and wholesome
  • Food handling practices must comply with Department of Health standards

Childcare license application in Pennsylvania

All childcare license applications follow the same process, whether for a child care center, group child care home, or family child care home.

Step 1: Get a certificate of occupancy

You'll need a certificate of occupancy before beginning the license application process, and you can obtain one from your local municipality. The certificate of occupancy proves that your facility is in the right zone for a daycare business.

License approval requirements vary depending on one's locality. Ask your local authorities for complete information, e.g., zoning application fees. You can contact your local municipality through the PA Business One-Stop Shop website.

Step 2: Register and attend an orientation

Pennsylvania state laws require childcare license applicants to register and attend both an online and in-person orientation. Be sure to select the right orientation according to the type of daycare center you intend to start.

You'll be issued a digital certificate of completion that is valid for 12 months after completing your online orientation. Be sure to proceed with the rest of the application before it expires. Next, you should contact your regional OCDEL office to register and attend an in-person orientation. 

You’ll receive a certificate of completion after you’re done with the in-person orientation. The certificate is valid for one year. Check the DHS site for more information about the orientation.

Step 3: Complete and submit your application

Complete and submit your application to your Regional Office of Child Development and Early Learning. A complete application must include:

  • A completed and signed Form PW 633 for certificate of compliance application
  • A certificate of occupancy
  • A criminal record check for all persons involved in the daycare’s management. Include relevant documents from the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Registry, Pennsylvania State Police criminal history, and FBI fingerprinting
  • Disclosure statement for the legal entity, a representative, and/or the responsible person
  • Any relevant business documentation, e.g., articles of incorporation, certificate of registration, etc.
  • Fictitious name approval, if applicable
  • Certificate of Tax Exempt Status, if nonprofit
  • Civil Rights Compliance Approval letter
  • Online and in-person orientation proof of completion
  • Proof of childcare training
  • Certificate of completion of the mandated reporter training
  • Civil Rights Compliance Questionnaire
  • Verification that the facility meets the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

You can find more information about the application materials here. Contact your regional child development offices for more information about child care licensing, such as fees, or call the Pennsylvania State Department of Human Services (DHS) at 1-800-222-2108.

Step 4: Prepare for a pre-licensing inspection and approval

Your regional child development office supervisor will review your application within 45 days of submission. A representative from your regional office will contact you if your application is complete and error-free to schedule an inspection of your facility. 

The inspection involves assessing your facility to see if it complies with DHS standards. After passing the inspection, you will receive a regular certificate of compliance/license. A business plan and the proper license are enough to start your new business venture. A tool like brightwheel's center management feature will simplify your administrative tasks and save you time by streamlining your center's admissions process, record keeping, and reporting.

How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Pennsylvania

A daycare license in Pennsylvania is valid for 12 months. This means you must renew your license annually to remain compliant. A compulsory facility inspection is part of the license renewal process, which you must pass. This is DHS's way of determining your compliance with the state childcare laws.

DHS will send a renewal notice 130 days before the license expires. You’re required to submit the license renewal information along with a Civil Rights Compliance Attestation form (CRC). You should email the license renewal information and CRC to the DHS office that issued your license. 

Starting a daycare business in Pennsylvania

Starting and operating a successful daycare business in Pennsylvania requires adhering to the state's regulations on child care. The exact type of license you apply for will differ based on the details of your business, but plenty of resources are available to help you navigate all the requirements. Once you’ve obtained your license, you can start focusing on the next stage of your business.

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