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How to Start a Daycare in Oklahoma

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Daycare Staff

At, our articles are penned by a dynamic team of seasoned experts who've spent years in the trenches with kids and daycare center owners. Imagine a mix of laughter, learning, and aha moments distilled into every article! From playful tips for early childhood education to navigating the wild ride of daycare provider life, we're your go-to source for reliable info with a side of fun.

To start a daycare in Oklahoma:

  • Begin by researching the state’s licensing requirements for childcare facilities, which typically include factors such as staff-to-child ratios, health and safety standards, and educational qualifications.
  • Next, create a detailed business plan outlining your daycare’s mission, target demographic, services offered, and budget projections.
  • Secure suitable premises that comply with zoning regulations and meet safety standards, ensuring there is ample space for activities and amenities for children. Obtain the necessary permits and licenses from state and local authorities, including background checks for yourself and any staff members.
  • Develop policies and procedures for operations, such as enrollment processes, emergency protocols, and curriculum planning. Invest in appropriate childcare equipment, furniture, and supplies, prioritizing safety and functionality.
  • Finally, market your daycare through local advertising, a listing,  social media, and community outreach to attract families seeking quality childcare services.
  • Regularly evaluate and adjust your business practices to ensure compliance with regulations and meet the evolving needs of children and families in your area.

Do I need a childcare license in Oklahoma?

Whether you’ve opted to initiate a home-based preschool or establish a center-based program, commencing a daycare venture entails several essential steps. These encompass crafting a business plan, selecting a suitable name for your daycare enterprise, and devising comprehensive marketing strategies. Equally crucial in the initial stages is gaining clarity on the necessary permits and licenses mandated to operate a daycare in Oklahoma.

In the state of Oklahoma, acquiring a license or permit is imperative for the establishment of a childcare center, whether it involves launching a new venture or acquiring an existing one. Hence, the Oklahoma Department of Human Resources (DHS) advocates for meticulous planning during the inception phase to ensure full compliance with licensure prerequisites.

Similar to regulations in numerous other states, Oklahoma’s childcare licensing stipulations exhibit variability contingent upon the nature of the facility being established.

Daycare in Oklahoma

Types of childcare facilities and programs

  • Child care centers: These establishments operate for 30 or more hours weekly, providing comprehensive care and educational services.
  • Day camps: Operating during school breaks, these programs run for 12 hours or less per day, catering to children aged five and older, with a predominant outdoor component comprising at least 50% of daily activities.
  • Drop-in programs: Operating for 30 or more hours weekly, these programs allow individual children to attend for six hours or less per day and 24 hours or less per week, with an allowance for three additional six-hour days per child annually.
  • Out-of-school time programs: These programs run outside of regular school hours, including before and after school, as well as during school breaks, accommodating children aged three and older who are either attending or have completed pre-kindergarten or higher.
  • Part-day programs: Operating for more than 15 but fewer than 30 hours weekly, these programs offer structured care and educational activities.
  • Programs for sick children: Tailored for children with illnesses hindering their participation in regular activities, these programs provide specialized care ensuring the well-being of all children involved.
  • Family child care home: Provides care and supervision for seven or fewer children for part of the 24-hour day. Care is limited to:
    • Children under the age of five residing in the household and present during care hours.
    • Foster children aged 12 and below residing in the household and present during care hours.
    • The children of substitute caregivers or assistants, who are present during the children’s care hours.
  • Large family child care home: Similar to family child care homes but accommodating between eight to 12 children, including those under five years old, foster children under 12, and the caregiver’s own children.

Some types of programs are exempt from licensure. They include:

  • Programs conducted within a child’s residence or by family members.
  • Informal arrangements for sporadic child care.
  • Drop-in programs where parents remain on-site and easily reachable.
  • Single-activity programs.
  • Programs operating for 15 hours or fewer per week.

Moreover, Oklahoma utilizes the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to evaluate, enhance, and convey the quality standards within early care and out-of-school education initiatives. Ratings are granted to programs, evaluating aspects such as curriculum, child progress, learning environments, teacher-child interactions, professional growth, and training.

The QRIS comprises five levels, with all licensed programs initially receiving a one-star rating. Programs have the opportunity to elevate their star level by fulfilling supplementary quality benchmarks. Notably, attaining a 1+ Star rating is requisite for eligibility to engage in contracts with the Department of Human Services (DHS) for remuneration regarding childcare services.

Childcare licensing requirements in Oklahoma

A childcare licensing specialist from the Department of Human Services (DHS) can assist you in determining the type of childcare center you aim to establish, ensuring the completion of the appropriate application and adherence to licensing prerequisites. It’s advisable to allocate ample time between the initiation of planning and the submission of your application to opening your facility. This buffer period allows sufficient time to fulfill all requirements effectively.

Prior to the issuance of any childcare license, providers must fulfill specific background check protocols, including:

  • An Oklahoma State Courts Network search conducted by the department
  • A Restricted Registry search carried out by the facility
  • A national criminal history records search
  • A criminal history records and sex offender registry search performed by an authorized entity, if the individual has resided outside the state within the past five years
  • A search of the Department of Corrections’ files in compliance with the Sex Offenders Registration Act
  • A check of any available child abuse and neglect registry in states where the individual has lived within the past five years
  • A review of the nontechnical services worker abuse registry
  • A check of the community services worker registry

The aforementioned criteria are also applicable to potential staff members and individuals aged 18 and above residing within a family child care home.

For minors under the age of 18 residing in the home, they must undergo:

  • An Oklahoma State Courts Network search carried out by the department
  • A Restricted Registry search conducted by the facility
  • A national criminal history records search
  • A check of the Department of Corrections’ files in adherence to the Sex Offenders Registration Act

Childcare centers

Provider requirements

Prior to or within 12 months of employment, teaching personnel must obtain and maintain a current Oklahoma Professional Development Ladder (OPDL) certificate. In addition to the background check requirements listed above, the director or administrator in charge of the facility must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have satisfactory work experience
  • Have a current bronze or higher-level certificate
  • Not be a director or master teacher at another program that operates concurrently at any given time
  • Have a good understanding of the requirements and program policies

Teachers employed by the childcare facility must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have at least a high school diploma, GED, or licensing approved equivalent; or have completed 10th grade and be in the process of obtaining a GED for a period not to exceed 12 months from employment
  • Obtain and maintain CPR and first aid certification requirements

Assistant teachers employed by the childcare facility must:

  • Be at least 16 years of age
  • Be currently enrolled in high school or an equivalent, have at least a high school diploma, GED, or licensing-approved equivalent; or have completed 10th grade and be in the process of obtaining a GED for a period not to exceed 36 months from employment

Master teacher required criteria include:

  • A current Oklahoma Professional Development Ladder (OPDL) certificate of Level 4 or higher
  • Completed training in Oklahoma’s Early Learning Guidelines (ELG); however new master teachers or probationary master teachers hired or assuming the responsibilities after certification are trained within 90-calendar days
  • Employment on-site, full-time; however out-of-school time master teachers are on-site at least 50 percent of weekly-operating hours

Daycare in Oklahoma

Ratio and capacity requirements

Childcare centers are required to maintain staff-to-child ratios at all times.

Single-age group

Age of childrenRatiosMaximum group size
1 year olds1:612
2 year olds1:816
3 year olds1:1224
4 year olds1:1530
5 year olds1:2040


Mixed-age group

Age of childrenRatiosMaximum group size
Infants, 1 year olds, and 2 year olds only1:6 (No more than two infants per teaching personnel)12
Infants and older1:8 (No more than two under 2 years of age per teaching personnel)16
1 year olds and older1:8 (No more than two 1 years olds per teaching personnel)16
2 year olds and older1:12 (No more than four 2 year olds per teaching personnel)24
3 year olds and older1:15 (No more than six 3 year olds per teaching personnel)30
4 year olds and older1:18 (No more than eight 4 year olds per teaching personnel)36
5 year olds and older (and older mixed-age groups)1:20



Family child care homes

Provider requirements

Primary caregivers are required to meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 21 years of age.
  • Possess a high school diploma or GED.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in reading and writing to maintain necessary records, understand licensing requirements, and administer medication when responsible for children without supervision.
  • Collaborate with state licensing authorities during monitoring visits and investigations conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS).
  • For individuals licensed before June 1, 2022, secure a current Level 1 or higher Oklahoma Professional Development Ladder (OPDL) certificate.
  • For individuals licensed after June 1, 2022, acquire and sustain a current Level 1 or higher OPDL certificate within 12 months of licensure or commencement of employment.

Ratio requirements

For family and large family child care homes, the staff-to-child ratios are as follows:

  • When a single caregiver is present, the total number and ages of children in care are as follows:
    • Seven children, with a maximum of two children younger than 2 years of age.
    • Six children, with a maximum of three children younger than 2 years of age.
    • Five children of any age.
  • Two caregivers are mandated when:
    • Seven children are in care, and more than two of them are younger than 2 years of age.
    • Six children are in care, and more than three of them are younger than 2 years of age.

Additional requirements for all employees of childcare centers and family child care homes include:

  • Completion of safe sleep training before assuming care responsibilities for infants.
  • Certification in CPR and first aid appropriate for the ages of the children under care.
  • Completion of Entry Level Child Care Training (ELCCT) or an equivalent program within 90 days of employment, unless previously acquired within the past five years.
  • Obtaining fire approval from the local or state governmental authority.
  • Securing health approval from the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) or Indian Health Services (IHS), unless the program offers only limited food service.
  • Completion of child abuse prevention training.
  • Completion of child development training.
  • Completion of infection control training.
  • Completion of child passenger safety training if the program provides transportation for children aged five or younger.

Childcare license application in Oklahoma

In the majority of cases, acquiring a license is essential to operate a childcare business in Oklahoma. Follow the steps outlined below to obtain the appropriate license for your program.

Childcare centers

When you open or buy a childcare center, you must take the necessary steps to apply for a license.

Step 1: Contact a licensing specialist

Licensing specialists are available across various DHS county offices statewide. Locate your nearest licensing office to receive guidance throughout the license application procedure.

Step 2: Complete an application

Collaborate with your licensing specialist to finalize the application and furnish all necessary documentation, including:

  • Completed application form
  • Evidence of ownership/sponsorship
  • Summary of childcare staff
  • Childcare staff information sheets for each employee
  • Verification that the director holds a Bronze Credential or higher
  • Criminal background checks for the applicant and all employees
  • Documentation confirming adequate equipment for capacity
  • Proof of a licensing monitoring visit indicating compliance with requirements
  • Fire approval documentation dated within the past 12 months
  • Health approval documentation dated within the past 12 months

Step 3: Schedule and complete a licensing monitoring visit

Your license application must demonstrate that your center fulfills all prerequisites before acquiring a license.

Step 4: Fill out a Stars application

Upon approval of your permit or license by both the licensing supervisor and the Oklahoma Child Care Services State Office, your program will automatically obtain a one-star rating. At this stage, you can fill out a Stars application and work towards meeting the criteria for a higher star rating.

Step 5: Contract with DHS for childcare subsidy

Many working families qualify for childcare assistance through DHS. DHS also collaborates with childcare providers to support eligible families in covering these expenses. Contracting with DHS enables more families to consider your facility for their childcare needs. To contract with DHS, you must possess an approved DHS permit or license, hold a 1+ Star rating, complete an application, and undergo requisite training.

Daycare in Oklahoma

How to stay compliant with a daycare license in Oklahoma

DHS licensing specialists will continue to monitor your facility’s compliance with requirements on an ongoing basis. As such, you can anticipate at least three unannounced visits annually. Furthermore, it’s essential to stay current with inspections and regulatory mandates, including:

  • Fire inspections conducted every two years by the local or state governmental authority
  • Health inspections carried out at least every two years by the OSDH or IHS, unless the program offers only limited food service
  • Change of location notification sent to the licensing department if there is a change

Running your daycare center entails various administrative tasks such as organization, record-keeping, reporting, and more.

Opening your daycare in Oklahoma

Starting a daycare can offer both personal fulfillment and financial rewards, but it demands dedication, meticulous planning, and strict adherence to regulations. By remaining informed and compliant with relevant guidelines, you can establish a nurturing environment where children have the opportunity to learn, develop, and flourish under your supervision.

To best market your daycare and utilize coming tools such as all-in-one waitlist management, payment processing, and single scan solutions for parent updates, sign up at

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